- *Photo/makeup: Karl Giant. Dress: Machine
The chaotic disappointment in recent weather, legislation and job prospects has been building up – these days, bad news is shrugged off as another in a long line. Within that environment, maintaining an outlook that keeps motivation high gets more challenging and it’s only the thick skinned that can stand another bruise – more and more it’s common to make sarcasm and snark the bitter lemonade that refreshes us out of depressive thoughts. So when Taylor Mac dared to tackle the idea of loving the world and everyone in it through a five-part, five-hour performance entitled The Lily’s Revenge, I was excited but still skeptical about the entertainment value of an entire evening devoted to positive thinking. Though, immersing my physical body in a queer creative space with him at the helm was probably a good bet: more than 40 performers integrated vaudeville, dance, live music, film and audience participation into a story so ambitious it’s daunting to attempt a summary. But by the first intermission, it was clear that Taylor has made what could be his magnum opus, converting the entire HERE Arts Center into a world of kiosks and mini stages where the audience is assumed to be intelligent and engaged with the transformative power of art. Show and tell would be nothing if it was all talk, and in The Lily’s Revenge, Taylor leads by example in his quest to rid us of romance fatigue and reinvigorate efforts to ask ourselves hard questions about what we really want.
Which is not to say that he didn’t have HELP. Each of the five part extravaganza had its own director, burlesque legend Julie Atlas Muz and Faye Driscoll were on to choreograph, voice over work by Justin Bond and an endless list of players were having a great time while obviously working SO hard. There are three intermissions, but the first two are fully structured, designed to maintain engagement: World Famous *Bob* plays host and we were instructed to stay off of our phones and participate in the Kyogens–performances and activities during intermission addressing nuances of the larger production. Aside from being posited as serious conversation starters, these shorter pieces are as clever as they were fun. Taylor sang songs by himself in the bathrooms that were “flushed from the show,” in the dressing room was “Discussion Disco” — a dance party with the actors where you can talk to and booty bounce with them. There are mini-burlesque nooks, the “Context Corner” is an out of the way library with all the textbooks the play referenced and a computer logged onto a site about the plays conception (link here). There’s a bride and groom photo booth, marriage-themed dummies you can beat with a stick and proposal installation where a man in a tux and with a giant ring will get down on one knee and propose to you. Needless to say there was no rest for the weary, so what is The Lily’s Revenge so worried about?
- *Photo by Ves Pitts
Considering the breadth of issues that were addressed, it seems a lot. I couldn’t possibly recount every revelatory moment or laugh out loud minute (this is probably the longest TPR post ever). However Act II, arguably the strongest section, features a parade of flower costumes so on point, designer Machine Dazzle WILL get his pink wings in thespian heaven for his work (side note: I overheard someone say the costumer has only one assistant for the love of jeebus). Written in iambic pentameter, this portion was executed with such confidence and ease, the Shakespearean layers of literal and figurative profundity had me audibly saying “wow.” Playing the Master Sunflower, Daphne Gaines wields talent like a gymnast–tough as an ultimate fighter but with a benevolent grace. Addressing identity, agriculture politics, notions of beauty and personal fears of independence, “Act II: Ghost Warrior” could in itself be a crowning achievement.
- *Photo by Lucien Samaha
The story arc follows an lonesome flower and its quest to marry a real human bride. In order to do so, the Lily must become a man and yes, hour by hour all the heavy, politically queer connotations of that premise fall into place. However, the allegory here was not just in the big concepts represented by the passing of time, the meaning of love or the paralyzing effects of nostalgia, but also in the significance of committing to an all-day art experience. The purposeful inclusion of many collaborators and the thoughtful methods outlined to keep the audience involved is a statement concerned with the speed of our present culture and the coldness of virtual communication. The questions it asks are bold and confrontational, but the generous and kind place they come from are in the interest of preservation of community. Notable writers and performers usually have a signature, and Taylor’s is when he breaks character and looks at everyone right in the eye to express a sincere interest in your personal journey. Scores of techniques, a huge cast and constant movement of the action make most remarkable that whenever he bubbled up, Taylor Mac had the audience hanging on his every word. His facility for easing in and out of serious and comedy, sincere and sarcastic, actor and himself are the qualities that not only exemplify greatness, but inspire others to be so. In the 5th act, where the Lily’s journey was almost over he says, “If you live long enough, you play every part.” The truth is, not everyone is trying to play every part, but the infinite varieties of hurt and accomplishment prove that you wind up doing it anyway. Taylor’s way is to embrace your role as it changes and use it bring others closer. He certainly is.
The run is SOLD OUT but you can get last minute tickets. Thursday – Sunday, through November 22nd at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Avenue, (between Spring and Broome, entrance on Dominick) New York, 212-352-3101.