Daphne Gaines and Taylor Mac in
The Walk Across America for Mother Earth
(© Kanan Shah)
Daphne Gaines and Taylor Mac in
The Walk Across America for Mother Earth
(© Kanan Shah)
Hope and disillusionment go hand in hand in Taylor Mac's The Walk Across America for Mother Earth, at La MaMa E.T.C.'s Ellen Stewart Theatre. A collaboration with downtown mainstay The Talking Band, Mac's uneven new play is based on the writer-performer's experiences as a teenager when he participated in a nine-month protest walk from New York to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.

Mac plays Kelly, a young gay man unsure of himself and what he wants to do in life. He's been roped into the walk by his lesbian friend Angie (Daphne Gaines), who is involved in a relationship with fellow walker Marsha (Tina Shepard), who is suffering from cancer.

The ragtag band of activists also includes the group's purported leader King Arthur (Steven Rattazzi), his aging hippie girlfriend Flower (Ellen Maddow), radical fairy Greeter (James Tigger! Ferguson), the possibly insane Nick (Will Badgett), and a trio of Belgians, Beeka (Viva Deconcini), Rainbow Carl (Jack Wetherall), and Jimica (Nikki Zialcita). Rounding out the cast are Frank Paiva and Alex Franz Zehetbauer, who play non-human representations of Grass and Creek, respectively, and also double as security personnel.

It doesn't take long for dysfunction to set in, as discord, manipulation, infidelity, and even rape threaten to tear the group apart long before they reach their destination. A number of the characters start venting their frustrations, including Kelly who remarks, "we're getting closer and closer to the test site and I'm getting further and further away from caring about it."

The production is highly stylized, drawing from commedia dell'arte and other influences. Machine Dazzle's outlandishly bizarre costumes and Darrell Thorne's colorful make-up design give the show a distinct look, but the original music (by Maddow) fails to enliven the proceedings. Oddly, the most memorable song, "King of Filigree," is not performed on stage, but instead sung by Mac in the lobby at intermission.

The majority of the first act is tedious, with director Paul Zimet pitching nearly everything at the same heightened level. Several actors are unable to get beyond a surface characterization. Things improve in the second half, as there's more variety to the pacing and playing of the scenes. Particularly good is a heart-to-heart between Kelly and Angie which is performed with a quiet intensity that allows both actors to reveal layers of emotion we had not previously seen.

By the play's end, Mac has invoked some complex feelings in relation to the effectiveness of direct action political activism and the people who engage in it. However, like the walkers depicted in the show, the work itself remains too unfocused.