There is a dilemma at the core of The BE(A)ST of Taylor Mac that any self-aware snob has had to contend with before: what to do when the subculture moves to the mainstream, or rather, when an act from the subculture strives for the mainstream? The later seems the more damning of the two as one may forgive an artist for the mythical ‘accidental discovery’ but to set out with the intention of appealing to a mass audience? How dare he?
The set-up for the Mac show was a potential for compromise. The spectacle of the late-night cabaret held at 6:30pm (a point Mac addresses and reassures with a “I’ve done it earlier”), in a converted church, seating the painfully sober attendants amongst other patrons politely chatting as a general mélange of glam rock blasted over the p.a. The production itself felt odd. Taylor Mac was spectacular in a ragtag ensemble and ornate blue face-paint. Mac’s stage presence was confident and singing beautiful, in ‘traditional’ form and the croaky septuagenarian evocations of drag. The performance was lead as a tutorial in Drag acts with Mac explaining terminology and walking the audience through politics. The rambunctiousness of the cabaret was substituted by the sobriety (I seem to harp on the booze-less) of an audience physically and psychically by the pews and stage. (Only occasionally would there be a hoot or affirmative remark yelped by a lone observer. Mac mercifully breaks the wall with a dreaded and anticipated selection from the audience for participation. This moment feels the most refreshing, perhaps as we get to see Mac work with improv.)
Mostly the audience kept to the traditional breaks in performance to politely applaud. Not that this was done out of charity. I really felt that everyone was enjoying himself or herself and the comments made when we exited enforced that. What I was witness to was a shift, a coming out if you will, of the drag performance.
Drag is nothing new to performance by any means. Renaissance theater is a note worthy period, but the gender politics of drag has largely been segregated to the musings of late night entertainment and liberal college seminars. What Mac’s show is presenting is drag finally and rightfully taking (forgive me) the Main Stage. Mac should be congratulated for this effort. And the development is fascinating.
The BE(A)ST of Taylor Mac is the next development, inevitable probably, hopeful definitely, of socio-political and gender issues/entertainment.
Posted by: Levi Hanes