Curl up the bedrock/Undo the lovelock/Fasten your beat to your feet and go…Westward ho. Think of Oz as a Nevada Nuclear Test Site. Anti-hero, Kelly (Taylor Mac), and his randy, rowdy, colorful boon companions, are hell bent on restoring Shoshone Indian land (ceded to them in the 1880s and grabbed back for testing) and the ideals of 1992’s uber liberal American youth. We were them, remember? Each for her/his own reasons, has committed to nine months of walking across the country in an idealistic protest believably represented by sheer buoyant anarchy. In The Walk Across America for Mother Earth, there’s even a symbolic tornado—as in Dorothy’s journey—whose choreographed effect on the raggle taggle band is a marriage of Buster Keaton and Pilobolous.
Welcomed by the trek’s diminutive, ersatz leader, King Arthur, Artie (Steven Rattazzi), looking like a Neanderthal who dropped acid, put his finger in a socket, and got dressed in a pile of Harley Davidson laundry, we’re loosely introduced to the informal tribe by their almost choral one line interjections—Cliff Notes describing who they are, why they’re present, what they hope to achieve. Unity is clearly an illusion.
Kelly, in a clown’s collar made of quartered cowboy bandanas, an assortment of utopian buttons, and overtly starched jean shorts, has fled his conservative home at an ingenuous, fearful, eighteen (this is a truish story) in hopes of bonding and adventure. The outcome seems secondary. His best friend, Angie (Daphne Gaines), a straight red wig over her Princess Leia (Star Wars) pom pom hair, wearing excessive canvas military pockets and carrying her very own, often used, glitter-starred soapbox, is an activist lesbian. If we don’t radicalize the template, I give you permission to judge my generation. It was at her instigation the two joined the march.
Shifting social, political, and personal agendas, the motley crew tramps, struts, hobbles, and two-steps its way across a map whose red marker at one point appears successively on the forehead: you are here, the heart: you are here, and the crotch: you are here, of one of the players. That the characters’ representative points of view are both poetically exaggerated and profoundly truthful is a remarkable accomplishment. One of the most singularly original and complex minds of modern theater and a master of myth, allegory, and allusion, Mac has, with this production, made himself more accessible than ever before. We get it. No question.
The more experienced, gorgeously flamboyant, Greeter (James Tigger! Ferguson—Actor/Dancer/Stripperperformance Artist), is sweet on Kelly. In a headpiece worthy of Wigstock, abundant fringe, a nest-like blue beard and fairy wings, he courts the boy with tender attentiveness and an offer of safe haven at his all male commune: come with me to Tennessee and be a fairy in the woods. Kelly, in turn, has a crush on Jimica (Nikki Zialcita). Sporting rubber pectorals, replete with native American tattoo, and a Raggedy Anne mop top, Jimica endears himself to Kelly by calling him wiggle-butt. Go figure.
Angie’s girlfriend, Marsha (Tina Shepard), who is dying of cancer, is taking a “urine cure”—don’t ask. (The author’s inclusion of unconventional sex, vaudeville body-suited nudity, and satirized excretion is almost a trademark). A petite dyke in thick glasses, a backwards baseball cap, and combat boots, the rabidly determined Marsha carries an enormous megaphone like a fifth limb: Meeting! Meanwhile Angie has fallen for Rainbow Carl (Jack Wetherall), a Belgian, with whom she thinks she can accomplish something, despite his lesbian girlfriend at home. Carl, whose tangled, variegated hair cascades down his back to the floor, has credibility because he threw himself under a bus at the G8 protest in Germany.
That leaves Nick (Will Badgett), a tall, Jimmy Hendrix-like aspirational Buddhist who admittedly cares more about ants than people and is sure Kelly raped him in a former life and Artie’s girlfriend, Flower (Ellen Maddow, also the excellent songwriter), a selfish Brunhilda who has an enthusiastic sexual relationship with her exhausted dog, Key Key (Nikki Zialcita wearing an appendage to die for). The cast rounds out with Viva Deconcini in marabou, leather and net as Beeka who ostensibly speaks no English and plays punk guitar, Alex Franz Zehetbauer as Creek (Really! Draped in trailing turquoise tulle, lame, and balloon bubbles) Wakenhut—Mac’s term for soldiers, and the actual Assistant Director, and Frank Pavia as Grass (you can imagine) and Wakenhut.
They march for Native Americans and against Nuclear Proliferation, for Innocent Animals and against Global Warming, for Organic Food, Decent Treatment of Political Prisoners, Sexual Freedom, Pot, and against the Male Dominate Paradigm (Marsha). They march, in fact, for and against everything for which radicals, activists, hippies, anarchists, gays, punks, men, women and young people march…under one banner…through snow, rain, snow, clothes off, clothes on, protest, dirty looks, fights with locals…fights with each other, love, lust, broken hearts, disillusionment and revelations. It’s a trip not to be missed.
Note: Do not stay in your seat at intermission. There’s a musical performance in the lobby including a lovely minstrel-like rendition of The Prince of Filigree sung by Taylor Mac, beverages, popcorn, and an opportunity to have your photo taken with protest signs—said photos emailed to you.
Taylor Mac is a treasure. His captivating shenanigans are original, heady, and immensely smart. The hybrid nature of his technique allows profound ideas to be swathed in paillettes, without diminishing their truth. He creates characters with respect, amusement, benevolence, and insight. Additionally, an able thespian, Mac elicits empathy, moves well, and sings (who knew?!) beautifully.
Ellen Maddow’s songs are artful and inventive.
The company is terrific, not only with emotional dramatization, but also physical performance.
What a joy to watch James Tigger! Ferguson bat his eyelashes and undulate around nubile prey. Here, in a much more sympathetic role than he played in The Lily’s Revenge, Ferguson shows himself to be touchingly, credibly moonstruck delivering an edgy multi-faceted, performance.
Daphne Gaines’ Angie is stubborn, gutsy, passionate and wanton. No wonder she’s attractive to both men and women. The actress presents a strong, keen, lively portrait.
Steven Rattazzi (King Arthur) successfully embodies everything vulgar, egotistical, and buffoon-like about any number of easily recalled historical and gangster leaders. He has genuine flair.
Jack Wetherall (Rainbow Carl) is imaginable in actual Commedia dell’arte. He has the grace of a mime and the bearing of a Shakespearean actor. And the accent is wonderful!
Nikki Zialcita, having had an accident, appears without missing a beat or a bit of showmanship, in a wheelchair throughout. She ably presents a spunky Jimica, but it’s her portrayal of Key Key, the dog, which lingers as both funny and memorable. Not since A.R.Gurney’s Sylvia have we enjoyed such a put-upon mutt.
Director Paul Zimet uses a large space as if it were canvas. He’s compositionally interesting while at the same time in keeping with the tale being told. The playfulness with which he has helmed this unconventional work, is blithe, brisk and filled with delightful little embellishments. Taking amusement seriously, he manages a deft balance. With work as broad as that of Taylor Mac, this is a necessity.
Each of the main characters is loosely modeled after a Commedia dell’arte figure, though it won’t inhibit your zealous enjoyment one iota if you don’t know who is who. Unique, sumptuous costumes by the incomparable Machine Dazzle are a feast for the eyes as is the color, sequin-addled Make-Up Design by Darrel Thorne. The script calls for either cross-eyed, tunnel visioned, or heavy lidded faces. Outlandish hair pieces positively erupt. Really, these two should get married.
Anna Kiraly’s set is attractive, effective, and appropriately minimal.
The Walk Across America For Mother Earth is ingenious, deranged, and fun. It’s also crammed with wisdom. Don’t worry, you won’t feel it as weighty. Taylor Mac is too clever by half for that.
Top photo of Taylor Mac. Photo credit: Darien Bates.
Middle photo, credit: Kanan Shah.
Bottom photo, (l-r) James Tigger! Ferguson, Taylor Mac and Will Badgett, photo credit: Darien Bates.
The Walk Across America For Mother Earth
By Taylor Mac
Music by Ellen Maddow
With: Will Badgett, Viva DeConcini, James Tigger! Ferguson,Daphne Gaines,
Taylor Mac, Ellen Maddow, Frank Pavia, Steven Rattazzi, Tina Shepard,
Jack Wetherall, Alex Franz Zehetbauer, and Nikki Zialcita
Directed by Paul Zimet
La Mama Theater
74A East 4th Steet
212-475-7710 or www.lamama.org
Through January 30, 2011