Taylor Mac in
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac
(© Lucien Samaha)
Taylor Mac in
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac
(© Lucien Samaha)
Taylor Mac describes his fabulous performance piece at HERE Arts Center, The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac, as "a subversive jukebox musical." By that, he means he has imported a number of songs he's written for previous shows into this highly entertaining, charming, and audacious stream-of-conscious monologue that touches upon contemporary anxieties as filtered through his thoughts and experiences.

When he first appears, Mac wears a blonde Rastafarian style wig, red fishnets, and a skirt made out of latex gloves. His nipples are painted a bright red, and his meticulously detailed facial make-up uses a palette of red, white, and pale blue mixed with plenty of glitter. The effect is one of surreal -- and perhaps terrifying -- beauty. He refers to his drag outfits as his "finery," and as the show continues, he changes clothing, doffs wigs, and continues to reinvent himself before our very eyes. There's a bold, fearless quality to his stage persona that makes him fascinating to watch; yet he also exudes a kind geniality that is seemingly at odds with his bizarre outward appearance.

Mac accompanies himself on the ukulele, singing sweetly one moment, speak-singing the next, and even stopping a song completely to share an anecdote or off-the-cuff remark. His songs are both personal and political, and include a number that blends the experiences of Lynne Cheney and Saddam Hussein; one about past lovers and their annoying traits; and another that proclaims "the revolution will not be masculinized." While the lyrics are often comic, Mac is prone to veer into dark, disturbing territory.

There is some audience participation involved, but Mac readily acknowledges that he knows many theater patrons tire of such tricks that seem designed to force enjoyment. His method is different, he says, because "I want you to feel uncomfortable." Still, the man dragged onto the stage at the performance I attended was a good sport and there was no actual malice involved.

The piece is directed by David Drake, who knows a thing or two about solo performance. While it's difficult to determine just how extensive his contributions are, he can certainly be credited for helping Mac shape The Be(a)st into more than just a loose collection of songs and stories. The well-paced show gradually builds momentum, and culminates in a song that should seem hokey -- with a refrain about how "everything will be alright" -- but is instead strangely uplifting and hopeful.