Thursday, July 31, 2008

Taylor Mac at HERE, Continued

Last night, I headed down to HERE for Taylor Mac's “Young Ladies of.” I’d seen “Be(a)st of Taylor Mac” before I went to the beach. Gary had told me “See ‘Be(a)st first, it’s a good introduction to him.”

I’d seen “The Hot Month” several years ago, and must admit, I didn’t really get it. But Gary and Stephen were the ones who always told me, you have to see his solo performances.

Well, I loved 'Be(a)st.' And “Young Ladies” is a great follow up. It’s Taylor’s meditation on a father he never knew, a young soldier from Texas who died in a motorcycle accident when he was four. The father was a rough, macho Texas type, and “Young Ladies” is Taylor’s (one-sided) conversation with him, after discovering a cache of letters. Robert Mac placed a personal ad for young ladies (from 19-26) to correspond with him while he was in Vietnam, and hopefully meet up for some R&R. it’s a touching concept – a son thirty years after the fact trying to learn something – anything – about the man who was his father, and the violent, male-centered culture he came from.

Watching plays like this is always tricky for me. My own parents were (and still are) stable, loving presences in my life. My father was anything but withholding, alien and distant. Every family has its own quirks and weirdness – the most normal can look dysfunctional if examined closely enough – but my story is, I was raised by people who showered me with love, even if we didn’t (and don’t) always understand or agree with each other. That love was a given in my life, no matter what differences arose.

Taylor is an exuberant, unique performer and “Young Ladies” has the high polish of working and re-working. The stage is filled with letters as he tries to enter the minds of the lonely desperate Australian women who wrote these plaintive letters to a man they would never meet. This being downtown and proudly drag, Taylor pulls in uke music, politics, family pictures, memories, "Carousel" and – a constantly repeated word in the show – ‘assumption- - to figure out who this man was, and conversely who Taylor is – a young gifted artist who feels himself perpetually on the outside of family, society and country.

Ultimately – for me – the show was not so much about the inner workings of a dysfunctional culture and family. There’s too much unknown in between the two men to even nail that down. But it is about self, and – cheesy as it sounds – self-discovery. What I found particularly moving about the piece is how for me it also becomes about those knotty things in our life – relationships, people, family – that never can be known and never bring us peace, only a constant, restless search. At one point near the end, Taylor leads the audience in a whispered chorus of a line from “Carousel” – ‘what’s the use of wondering?’ (Besides the writing, Taylor is brilliant at simply leading the audience where he wants them to go. No hectoring, no shaming, no stand up comedian tricks, just a gentle tug that puts us where he wants us, and tells us its OK to feel uncomfortable in the theatre.)

So I came home, went to my bookshelf and promptly pulled out my copy of “Red Tide Blooming” in one of Martin Denton’s anthologies. Put on my jammies, stretched out, and read it. I wish I’d seen it. It’s Taylor’s Ludlam-esque carnival of freaks, politics and Coney Island memories. Even on the page – where it reads as more of a series of stage directions and bits with puppets and boobs – it’s exciting to envision. I’m a freak for Ludlam, and “Red Tide Blooming” feels to me like “Big Hotel” or “Salammbo,” amazing theatrical drag pageants that I never got to see. I don’t know but I would bet Taylor’s learned from him – and a lot of other great gay/drag and performance artists – but “Red Tide” is also completely his own in its emphasis on community, otherness, corporate greed, and the perils of a conformity that stamps out all that’s beautiful, exotic or just fucking weird. (Plus, it’s damn funny, like in Lynne Cheney’s line: “We’ve never met but I know all about you from when I used to censor history.” I nearly spilled my cocktail.) “Red Tide” – like both pieces playing now in rep at HERE – is one hundred percent his own undiluted voice and vision.

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