Taylor Mac's The Lily's Revenge lights up Magic Theatre with earthy flower power
THEATER Talk about community theater. New York City drag artist Taylor Mac doesn't just bring his Obie Award–winning 2009 show to town, but a good swath of the town to the show. That includes six local directors and something like 40 local actors and musicians, with host Magic Theatre producing in collaboration with queer performance collective THEOFFCENTER and a large handful of other Bay Area players (Climate Theater, Crowded Fire, elastic future, Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project, Shotgun Players, and TheatreWorks).
That's probably as it should be for a sprawling, gleefully elaborate five-hour performance spectacle that revolves — with good camp humor, extravagant Theatre of the Ridiculous gestures, and devilishly arch songs set to composer Rachelle Garniez's evocative genre-spanning musical score — around a simple message of brother-sister-otherly love.
A simple message, but couched in a most extravagant presentation. To begin with: Mac as the play's titular flower, done up stunningly in garish green sequined fabrics and glittering makeup to match, a corolla of five spongy petals around his neck. As some wisenheimer points out in the first act, five petals in a corolla is actually one short for a normal lily, but there's nothing normal about this Lily: an organic loner raised in a basement studio apartment in Daly City who decides one night to go to the theater. And anyway there are only five acts, so one per.
Suburban bumpkin Lily is audibly charmed and bewildered by what he sees onstage in Act I: a "princess musical" titled "The Deity" (directed by Meredith McDonough) that pops up vociferously from an array of frilly doll-like bodies, all named Mary, strewn over a patchwork wallpaper stage.
The musical would like to be a standard wedding tale, centered on a blustery latter-day maiden (Casi Maggio) chomping at the bit — just a typical romantic story overseen by the proscenium curtain, who goes by the name of The Great Longing (Mollena Williams). But opposing it all is no less than Time herself, played with a sort of airy gravitas by Jeri Lynn Cohen, decked out in a see-through plastic hourglass and a cuckoo clock for a hat. (The costumes, all stars in their own right, are by Lindsay Davis.) Time balks at the repressive hold of this narrative paradigm. To this end, she draws intellectual support from a random daisy (Julia Brothers) reawakened into her former life as a Berkeley critical theorist in comfortable outerwear named Susan Stewart, who recites from her book-length essay, On Longing (an actual book by an actual Susan Stewart, as it happens), attacking nostalgia as inauthentic attachment to an imaginary past at odds with the here and now (or something like that).
In short (not that there is anything short about this show), Time persuades Lily, as a creature grounded in the here and now, to join the proceedings. And Lily, his own love-struck ego asserting itself, decides to embark on a metamorphosis — to shed his flower self for a hoped-for underlying manhood, operating perhaps under a curse of one sort or another — so that he might win the bride for himself (and away from the all-too-male groom in Speedo and accordion, played gamely by Paul Baird).
It will be a shame if the run-time keeps the otherwise Lily-curious away. This was one five-hour extravaganza that really seemed to fly by. (I've sat through much longer 90-minute one-acts just this month.) If the plot of The Lily's Revenge is not exactly designed to keep its audience guessing — our potted hero must live up to the title — the production does keep its audience moving, interacting, and generally engaged when not outright delighted by a steady stream of madcap turns and gaudy mayhem that spills joyfully off the stage and out into the lobby (where Jessica Heidt directs a series of Kyogen segments) and beyond.
A spirited platinum blonde called the Card Girl (Kat Wentworth) corrals the audience for no less than three intermissions, designed to encourage mingling, fraternizing, and face-time with fellow audience members and cast alike. (Meanwhile, Andrew Boyce's sets and the seating arrangements are rapidly and inventively rearranged.) The intermissions come complete with an optional dinner, dance parties, songs "flushed from the show" performed in and around the lavatories, and other sideshow offerings (solid advice from a garrulous sock puppet, for instance, or a glad-handing glory hole) — all in compact 15-minute increments.
Each act has its own particular character as it advances the merrily convoluted plot. Act II (directed by Marissa Wolf) is set in the round in a flowerbed and features a verse-off between Lily and assorted garden varieties. Act III is a "dream ballet" directed and choreographed with inspired exuberance by Erika Chong Shuch, in which a hilarious second pair of marriage hopefuls (Joe Estlack and Rowena Richie) devolve, amid an onset of "options" and a frenetic set of macabre bridesmaids, into a comically horrifying orgy of indulgence. In Act IV we enter a virtual realm called Ecuador (long story), with animated video sequences to live voice-overs directed with wry sophistication by Erin Gilley.
Finally, as the wedding party assembles amid the "divine madness" of Act V (directed by Jessica Holt) and ceremonial noises erupt under direction of the domineering Curtain, the Revolutionary Flowers, having infiltrated the proceedings, suddenly burst forth from low-rent disguises and storm the stage, while an enormous papier-mâché turd floats across the stage ahead of a dyspeptic visit by the Pope and a giant black Tick holds the White Rose captive and — I wasn't sure what the hell was going on by this point, to be honest. But as a debauched melee ensues, it's pretty clear things are tending toward one hell of a climax. It's all followed by a denouement too. This featuring an address by Mac, now in immaculate dress, the details of which are too charmingly candid to want to relate here. Better you see and hear for yourself.
The five-petaled Lily is most certainly the star of the show, but Mac is also a generous performer, giving ample space for his talented collaborators to shine. If some of the best moments are naturally centered on Mac's riveting presence, the sweetness and childlike impetuosity in his endearingly comic character, and not least his enthralling power as a singer, there are many more highlights to be had, big and small, among the general bloom.
THE LILY'S REVENGE
Tues–Sat, 7 p.m.; Sun, 2:30 p.m.;
Through May 22; $30–$75
Fort Mason Center
Bldg. D, Third Floor, SF