Taylor Mac may just be alternative theater’s answer to Orson Welles. He conceptualized, wrote both libretto and lyrics for, and stars in this lollapalooza fable for the modern age…and is equally adept at all these crafts. Four years, four grants, forty performers and an unimaginable number of sequins went into the creation of this completely unique and surprising mix. In parts burlesque, Noh play, vaudeville, puppet theater, dance, film, verse tale, tableaux vivant and site specific installation, The Lily’s Revenge is both an adventure in which one participates and a spectacle one attends.
The Lily—yes, he’s a flower-in a pot! (a sympathetic and compelling Mr. Mac) desperately wants to become a man in order to wed “Bride Hopeful” (Amelia Zirin-Brown AKA Lady Rizo in a genially wacky Fanny Brice turn) who is “teetering on the edge of a little too late.” He is aided on his quest by Time/ Wind (the sinuous and portentous Miss Bianca Leigh) and thwarted by her son, the Great Longing, God of Nostalgia, James Tigger! Ferguson, who is not only a terrific actor-as a curtain! (Disney, eat your heart out!) but also performs one of the most memorable, sensuous, comic stripteases you will ever be privileged see.
En route, our hero is ambushed not so much in, as by a garden of flowers (Ziegfeld on drugs) who manage (in perfect verse and competitive haiku) to enlist his help against the God of Nostalgia. This involves a trip to an Ecuadorian plant “factory” and the freeing of the dirt…so flowers may revenge themselves against the ravages of conventional sentimentality…all in time to get back to Bride Hopeful before she settles for/marries your basic hairy grunter. Got all that?
Diverse musical genres include fifties rock n’ roll, kitschy Latin night club, operetta and a Broadway star turn. Composer Rachelle Garniez seems able to write pretty much in any style with flair. Arranger Matt Ray serves her artistry well as does a small, extremely talented band. Mac’s lyrics, like his libretto, are intellect disguised as camp. Integrating such as Heigel, Joseph Campbell, Medieval myth, Susan Stewart’s “On Longing,” and The Olive Fairy Book, he displays the unusual talent of keeping his tongue firmly planted in his cheek while never seeming facile. (There’s a small room called “Contexts” in which these and other inspirational resources can be perused.) The singing is either very good or good enough to carry the fun along.
Derrick Little’s sparkling, inspired make-up and Machine Dazzle’s wonderfully loony costumes are a match made in Mardi Gras heaven—at the same time extravagant, purposefully tacky, completely imaginative, sexy and ingeniously functional. The various curtains and curtain costumes are extremely inventive. Emily Decola’s puppet could simply not be imagined otherwise.
Our guide to this fanciful parable is “The World Famous *BOB* Card Girl,” a Reubenesque burlesque diva and downtown celebrity in her own rite, who manages to buoy, logistically direct (every time we leave the theater, seats are rearranged) and draw the evening’s group together with great good humor and superior sass (not in the narrative, but during the breaks)
Mac purposefully eliminates “the fourth wall.” There are Greek Chorus-like readings of dialogue by the audience as well as an invitation to dance with the players in a celebration “nightmare within the dream ballet.” We are encouraged, as well, to fraternize with each other and the cast between acts at a “Discussion Disco” created from a downstairs dressing room—a mirrored ball, music and dancing set the scene beside make-up tables and costume racks. (There are additional intermission diversions all over the two story space, including in the rest rooms where I was fortunate to hear the Lily sing “a song we flushed from the show,” accompanied on his ukulele.)
The show would benefit from editing. Two acts speed by. We’re engrossed in the story, captivated and entertained by the characters; it’s a visual feast. A manic third act adds nothing to the narrative that couldn’t be accomplished in an additional ten minutes of the second act. (The third act actually felt like filler). The fourth act, a darkly comic silent film utilizing perverse dolls, while ingenious, slows a joyful momentum. The fifth act is crammed with so much unexpected action, uncensored expression, opposing force, bombast, exposition; color, glitter and all-out-finale, it’s like the exhilaration of rolling down a hill.
As it is, this unconventional and extraordinary saga occupies some three and a half hours unfolding in five acts, helmed by six different directors. Three intermissions offer time in which one may eat or drink in the café/bar, talk to the players, enjoy mini performances or take a breath of fresh air. A total commitment of almost five hours may daunt all but the most intrepid theatergoers. Be intrepid.
The Lily’s Revenge is an amalgam of performing communities and talent rarely seen together in one theatrical effort. It’s a rollicking anthem for individuality and relationship against the odds of the tradition-bound “modern” world. Its creator calls it “highbrow done in a drag show.”
With an open mind and some stretching between acts, the ambition, style and cleverness of the evening carries one out into the autumn night tired, but pleased.
Note: In the intentional atmosphere of gender ambiguity and social comment, there’s an increasing amount of varied and flamboyant sex portrayed. Some of this is fitting buffoonery or political observation. Some is gratuitous. (Be aware, there is on stage nudity in the second half.)
Top photo of Master Sunflower (Daphne Gaines) and Lily (Taylor Mac) and middle photo of Bride (Amelia Zirin-Brown) by Ves Pitts.
Photo of Poppy (Glenn Marla) by Lucien Samaha
Bottom photo of Taylor Mac by Peter Bellamy
The Lily’s Revenge
Here Arts Center 212-647-0202
145 Sixth Avenue (enter on Dominick, one block south of Spring)
Through November 22, 2009