Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac

Photo/Lucien Samaha

Taylor Mac comes to us in drag, green-faced and glittery, with a thickly clumped wig, but despite his eccentric act (high energy rants modulated by ukulele), don't mistake him for an alien. He's a wildman, a performance artist born in the crucible of gay nightclub basements. The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac is a messy sampler of his previous solo shows: by the end of the night (after opening "Pandora's suitcase"), he's standing in a sea of old costumes. The overall topic of this self-proclaimed "subversive jukebox musical" is to pierce what "the bubble of preparation," in which America (and, by inclusion, audiences) attempt to shelter themselves from harm by "preparing for the surprise." Two things are made clear by the bubble of light that surrounds him: first, that Taylor Mac cannot be contained by David Drake's direction, and second, that for all his mania--singing breasts and all--there's nothing particularly shocking about Taylor Mac.

Whether this proves Taylor's point or hinders his performance is beside the point, for the show goes on, whether you "get" it or not. For me, the show was only periodically entertaining, with Taylor's between-song explications far more interesting than the vignettes themselves. Both are performed at the same energy (dial that intensity up to eleven, but soften that bass with charm), but his stream-of-consciousness monologues seem more genuine than the rehearsed songs. This is due to his eagerness to reveal himself (though drag is an element of the show, I don't mean it like that): he jumps on and through his own lines, uncontrollable, as he tries to get it all out.

The danger is that due to the nature of the performance, some of the riskiest truth may come across as shtick. The costumes change, but they're largely superfluous, and what remains underneath never really changes: speech, song, speech, song, but nothing that would truly pierce that bubble. His mirth and amiable nature tames the "be(a)st," and though Taylor mentioned that he hates comparisons, his reliance on Mylar props and his needy direct address bring to mind a certain overly muscular redhead's stand-up routine. ("Bobby wanted to have unprotected sex, and when I wouldn't, he said 'Are you afrAIDS?'")

For all the shrill speeches about this culture of fear we live in, Taylor refuses to exploit the grotesque to make his points. Instead, he revels in it, softening the edges, and by allowing us to remain safe in our seats (save for one "lucky" participant), he allows us to easily dismiss his act as pure entertainment.

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