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Taylor Mac at the Undermain

by Jerome Weeks 5 Feb 2010 8:10 AM

Performance-artist-drag-queen Taylor Mac makes his Texas debut. Mac has performed all over the world — the Sydney Opera House, the Spoleto Festival — and his Undermain show is a medley that works astonishingly well in displaying a nimble, funny, gentle performer. And a tremendous talent.


Be(A)st of

  • Alexandra Bonifield’s review
  • David Novinski’s review for FrontRow
  • KERA radio story:

  • Expanded online story:

Taylor Mac is touring his one-man show, The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac, to the Undermain Theatre. Mac has been hailed as one of America’s most exciting performance artists.

He says that’s just a fancy term for drag queen.

But even among transvestite, cabaret artists, Taylor Mac looks – unusual. He does wear high heels, a wig and stockings. But the stockings are badly ripped, the wig is tangled with dreadlocks and ribbons. And Mac’s face is covered with sequins and space-alien make-up.

That’s because when he started out more than a decade ago as a performer and playwright, Mac says he began by writing down things he didn’t want people to know about him. That way, it would reveal things that mattered — and he would care about the work. Then he asked, Well, if the show is going to represent these things, what would it look like?

MAC: “Eventually, I was saying, well what do I look like? And it’s what I came up with – [laughs] this kind of crazy drag, very theatrical, non-female-impersonation drag.”

taylor smallWhat Mac plays onstage really is just himself – louder, taller, more glittery. It’s what he calls the “stage-worthy version.” He doesn’t separate aspects of himself, he combines them all at once. He wants to puncture the bubbles that divide people, and one of those bubbles is perfection or purity.

MAC: “You’ll see something that’s feminine and it’s masculine, something that’s chaotic and ugly and that’s also really beautiful and organized. Part of letting go of perfection as your goal is everything becomes more human.”

Taylor Mac’s father was a Texas airman from Abilene; he died when Mac was four (he’s the subject of one of Mac’s shows, The Young Ladies Of . . .). Mac actually grew up in Stockton in Northern California, and that, he says, is what accounts for the twang in his voice. Stockton is where many Okies ended up after fleeing the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. In fact, Mac’s two-week run at the Undermain Theatre is his Texas debut.

Mac’s performances combine hilarious stand-up comedy, wicked political satire, touching personal memoir — and ukelele playing. Mac actually has a tremendous singing voice that shifts easily from operatic countertenor to a roar to a lullaby.

[Excerpt from “The Revolution Won’t Be Masculinized.”]

Mac says his singing comes from years of musical theater training. He fled Stockton for San Francisco, where he spent nine months dressing up as a poodle for Beach Blanket Bingo. Then he headed to New York to study acting. But ordinary theater shows left him dissatisfied. So he wrote his own. And he started performing in gay clubs in New York – they were the only venues that would book him.

As unusual as he is, Taylor Mac comes out of a flamboyant, underground drag tradition that includes experimental-theater performer Ethyl Eichelberger and Charles Ludlam, founder of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company and author of The Mystery of Irma Vep and The Artificial Jungle, which Flower Mound Performing Arts Theatre is opening later this month.

phpTuyvOjPMBut Mac has managed to get well beyond downtown New York. His 2005 appearance at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival got him booked in Stockholm, Dublin and London. He’s performed at the Sydney Opera House and the Yale Repertory Theatre. A play he recently wrote, The Lily’s Revenge, took five hours, required 36 performers — and was declared one of the best theater productions last year by The New Yorker and the New York Post. He’s currently working on a new show with Mandy Patinkin.

What also distinguishes Taylor Mac is his incredible charm. His humor is sexually explicit and mocking; he looks outlandish, possibly even confrontational. Yet he is actually quite gentle and open-hearted.

MAC: “My goal is not to convince the audience to believe what I believe. I just am trying to remind them of their humanity. It’s great if I talk about gay marriage and suddenly everyone wants gays to get married at the end of the show – fantastic! But that’s not the goal.”

What is the goal? It’s not to bite the hand that feeds him, Mac says — just to leave some lipstick on it.

It’s to defuse some of what he calls our “fear-based culture.”

[Excerpt from “Free Weekend Minutes” – “gonna be all right, it’s gonna be all right.”]