Taylor Mac Repertory
nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
July 10, 2008
Like the performer himself, The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac is not easy to describe. Mac calls the piece a play because, as he wryly puts it, "Lanford Wilson once told me, 'Taylor, if the playwright calls it a play, it's a play.' Of course, he was seriously drunk at the time." However the piece feels more like a well-framed cabaret act, being the blend of humorous anecdotes and alternatively funny and sad songs that it is. At the same time, to call it that feels dismissive of Mac's talent and the carefully crafted and often poetic show that he has put together and toured around the world.
It could also be called a drag show, as Mac is dressed from top to toe in his "finery," as he calls it, and the humor of the show could easily be called campy. However, this again would take away from the seriousness of a lot of what Mac is talking about, and the vulnerability that he shows in some really striking moments. Whatever label anyone chooses to apply to it, The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac is a compelling evening of theatre, driven from start to finish by Mac's magnetic stage presence, sense of humor, and love of his audiences and what he does.
The bare-bones nature of this piece is somewhat antithetical to Mac's over-the-top personality and wardrobe. The piece is written to be performed on a stage set for another production—any other production. Mac jokes about how many times during his world tour that he's done this piece on the set of The Glass Menagerie. In this particular instance, Mac is on the set of his own play, The Young Ladies Of, which plays in rep with this piece. Mac stands center in a bubble of light, which represents "the Bush years." In this bubble, Mac talks and sings about politics, himself, and drag, alternating with ease from camp to tragedy.
The songs and stories themselves work best when Mac combines these two elements to produce something genuinely new and provocative—such as his song about the romance between Lynne Cheney (Dick's wife) and Saddam Hussein at the latter's execution. The song, which starts out sort of silly and fun, becomes achingly beautiful by the end as these two figures realize how much they have in common, and Mac's singing spins more and more out of control. This same progression from silly to heartbreaking occurs later on in the show, when Mac acts out his internal thoughts and insecurities while lying in bed one morning, masturbating. The private nature of this vignette shows Mac's fearlessness as a performer. He's as at home on stage talking and singing talking about his personal sexual and relationship problems as he is cracking a joke about politics, his tongue firmly placed in his cheek.
If some of the jokes feel vaguely dated (when was the last time anyone joked about orange alert?), they can be forgiven because by the time they roll around, Mac's relationship with the audience is such that we feel like we're all in this together. This feeling of warmth and community that Mac fosters in the audience is the most impressive part of the show. Mac has an ability to master a room, to draw the audience in, and to make them feel at home. If some of the songs or jokes don't land, he's the first to admit it, and we forgive him for it—not an easy feat with your typical downtown New York audience. At the end of the night, you the audience feel you've all experienced something together—and that, as Mac's last song says—"everything is going to be all right."