Friday, November 6, 2009

The Lily's Revenge


By Taylor Mac. Directed by Paul Zimet, Rachel Chavkin, Faye Driscoll, Aaron Rhyne, David Drake, and Kristin Marting. HERE Arts Center. (CLOSED)

Reviews for playwright/performer Taylor Mac's five-hour meta-theatrical epic so far range from ecstatic to admiring, with advocates trumpeting not only the work's thoroughgoing, form-breaking playfulness but also its serious intent, and admirers seeming a little surprised how much fun they had over the long program, even if they liked one or another of the five acts less than the rest and looked askance at some of the work's more earnest excesses. Mac's definitive central performance and Machine Dazzle's costumes get the most universal praise, but there are a lot of bouquets to go around for this outsized Lily.

Time Out NY A+
(Adam Feldman) At a time when much of New York’s theater seems to have shrunk in the wash, here at HERE is a nearly five-hour feast that involves some 40 performers, six directors, a live band and a pyrotechnic array of costumes. Let us not condescend to the show simply because it looks so ramshackle-fabulous. In its bravery, scope, creativity, extremity and sheer generosity of spirit, The Lily’s Revenge, to my mind, surpasses any American theater in New York this year...A hothouse garden of unearthly delights, most extravagantly manifested in its divinely makeshift-glamorous costumery—a heroically imaginative effort by the whimsically named Machine Dazzle. But Mac’s vision goes beyond the wacky fantasia that the descriptions above may so far suggest, for The Lily’s Revenge, though often very funny in its execution, is surprisingly serious in its intent. Mac’s ethos of individualism and community, explicitly articulated toward the end of the play, has clear roots in the 1960s, but his notion of flower power is thornier than one might think. A+
(Martin Denton) Five hours sail by like a happy and satisfying dream...Intelligent, endlessly surprising, and above all spectacularly entertaining. It inspires hyperbolic pronouncements like "the most important event of the theater season" or "the essential must-see event of the year," and then thumbs its nose at such portentous preposterousness (or bares its bottom; it's that kind of cheeky show, after all)...Taylor proves himself to be not just a radiant starry presence on stage (the kind of performer you simply cannot look away from) but also a theatrical auteur/force of nature of Wellesian ambition and potency. It's not just Mac's intellect or talent or even audacity that makes The Lily's Revenge the magical stupendous piece of theatre that it is: it's the over-the-top heart, full of unwavering faith in himself, dozens of disparate collaborators, and roomfuls of audience members he's never even met, that they will make The Lily's Revenge possible every night. For possibility is finally what it's all about.

Backstage A
(Mitch Montgomery) Mac hauls these abstract ingredients to Here Arts Center and stirs them together with messy, impish delight...Mac has gone to great lengths to express his love-me-love-me-not relationship with theatrical convention, hoping the audience will comprehend precisely the raunchy dialectic between, say, performance art, Japanese Noh theater, and burlesque. And by the time it’s done, it is unquestionable. Mac might be a little overly ambitious in the delivery of his message, but after rearranging the theater four times and ticking through the whole history of performance, the point about looking more progressively at the institutions of theater and marriage emerges with profound clarity. A surprising but suddenly obvious connection lands just right: Both theater and marriage are essentially pure, intimate relationships that have only been corrupted into institutions.

The New Yorker A
Breathtakingly ambitious on nearly every level, but at its core it’s a progressive allegory about love and matrimony. And it flies by: the multiple intermissions are presided over by the World Famous Bob and feature a Discussion Disco, where theatregoers can chew over lessons they have learned from the flowers.

The New York Times A-
(Charles Isherwood) A five-hour tide of fishnet, eye shadow and sequins...The riot of styles sometimes clashing and sometimes coalescing during The Lily’s Revenge offers so many incidental pleasures (resplendently tacky-ornate costumes, a dream ballet, a haiku competition, a stage curtain made entirely of crumpled cocktail napkins) that theatrical time — always a curiously malleable element — seems to contract. To my happy surprise, I emerged from The Lily’s Revenge more refreshed than exhausted...As much a party as a theatrical presentation, and you should be prepared to be stuck occasionally in a corner with a less than entrancing conversationalist. Some sequences — well, maybe most sequences — are longer than they need to be. Mr. Mac’s versifying is impressive in its volume and its whimsy, but he seems a little besotted by his own lyric gifts...In any case Mr. Mac is aiming more for amusement than enlightenment. The jokes are more memorable than the lit-crit gabble.

New York Post A-
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) It's as if Shakespeare had been reincarnated as a hippie and written a picaresque musical...But the evening is surprisingly easy to digest, particularly since the three intermissions are abnormally long to reconfigure the main performance space for every part...The show takes over the entirety of the HERE theater complex -- including the dressing room, hallways, stairs and bathrooms -- to immerse the audience in a fantastical alternate reality. Some sequences do dilly-dally, and even the wacky internal logic falters by the end, but for the most part this experience is sweet, ramshackle and generous -- and unique.

Variety A-
(Sam Thielman) It's not easy to do avant-garde and epic simultaneously, but Taylor Mac has pulled it off...Machine Dazzle's costumes are gorgeous, Mac's songs are clever, and the performances are fun, but one caveat: The experience clocks in at a little under five hours...This is about as far into the world of downtown theater as you can get without actually falling into the Hudson. Mac thumbs his nose at traditional narrative structure, eventually explaining that this show is what he wants in lieu of a wedding. What's best about "Lily's Revenge" are the emotional surprises, which are so strange they could be from another planet...Where the show goes wrong is in its final act, when, after another half-dozen funny incidents, including a glammed-out pope blasting the entire cast with a machine gun, Mac proposes that we all commit to loving each other and the world -- that we "marry" everything, in effect. It's a nice sentiment but it feels a little played-out and naive -- maybe deliberately so...Still, Mac's engagement with big ideas -- about marriage, about theater, and about love in general -- carries the show a long way, and the sheer audacity of the enterprise makes what could potentially be a grueling experience into something cool and fun and even communal, if you're open to the possibility.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Balcazo) Defies easy categorization as it continually plays with and satirizes a range of dramatic forms...Mac is an enormously entertaining performer, mixing campiness and sincerity as Lily continues on his journey...Ferguson is also quite delightful, and his Act 3 striptease manages to be simultaneously hilarious and titillating. The remaining performers are of varying ability, with memorable turns from Leigh, Gaines, and the burlesque star World Famous *BOB* who serves as a charming and gracious hostess for the entire evening...Admittedly, there are moments -- and sometimes entire stretches -- of the long evening that become tiresome, such as the Act 3 dream ballet. But, overall, the ambitious project confirms Mac's reputation as an innovative theater artist.

Village Voice B
(Alexis Soloski) Gleefully queer and desperately untidy...Mac's play draws on a plenitude of genres: Noh drama, stop-motion animation, American musical theater, and Carolingian masquerade. The presence of eight different directors, choreographers, and filmmakers encourages the stylistic bedlam. The directors prove more and less capable, and the cast, drawn largely from the burlesque scene, boasts widely (and wildly) varying abilities. Mac, as he has demonstrated in previous shows such as Red Tide Blooming, is an affecting performer...Though he plays the lead, I often found myself wishing he had written a larger role for himself (and perhaps for the charming Heather Christian) and trimmed much of the rest.

Time Out NY A+ 14; A+ 14; Backstage A 13; NYer A 13; NYT A- 12; NYPost A- 12; Variety A- 12; Theatermania B+ 11; VV B 10; TOTAL: 111/9=12.33 (A-)

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