Beck’s Music Box
February 18, 2011
Taylor Mac, the New York drag artist, charmed and (albeit gently) confronted a happy festival crowd on Friday night.
Choosing cozzies seemingly at random from a pile on the stage, and picking away adroitly on the ukulele, Mac worked through his themes of societal paranoia and the pitfalls of homogeneity with considerable power and sly theatre craft.
Sly, because Mac is often not what we expect him to be, and is often not doing what he says he is doing.
This is clear from the start, when he warned us that if we'd come to see a man in a dress miming Abba songs, we were in the wrong place. That established, he gleefully announced that he liked to kick things off with some jokes about 9/11.
There were no jokes about that hideous day, though; Mac used the mere threat of them as a jumping-off point to poke pins in the "bubble of preparedness" he said had been constructed around his country since.
Standing in a pool of white light that did not change or move all show (a metaphor for the past 10 years, he said), Mac took aim at the 24/7 media and ripped into the bible-belt States ("South Carolina is like Bunbury, or worse").
The Paris of the South-West wasn't his only local target; the Belltower ("People spend money on the strangest shit") and the member for Curtin also came in for rough treatment (“I'm usually a nice queen, but you guys are bringing out the beast in me," he chortles). During a scandalous song featuring the wife of the former US vice-president, Mac asked us to imagine Ms Bishop when he sang of Lynn Cheney.
It's these original songs that set him apart from his purported genre. This was no Danny La Rue act; indeed, Mac is really an artist in drag rather than a drag artist. A song flashing between the birth of a friend's son and his own sordid adventures across town, and a "list" song detailing the faults and foibles of past lovers, had the narrative counterpoint and attention to detail of the best Broadway lyrics.
At the end, after offering to swap "our" Bishop for "his" Palin, Mac sat, bald and exposed, on the stage stairs outside the pool of light to sing that we had nothing to fear but fear itself.
His message, and the way he had chosen to give it, finally became clear.
This was a fine and fun show, but it could have been much more — the Music Box is a perfectly good venue, but perhaps for a different kind of act. Mac suggested as much himself when he wondered aloud whether we thought we were there for James Taylor, not Taylor Mac.
I couldn’t help but think, a little ruefully, that across town in the fringe festival's Spiegeltent, Mac’s enjoyable and clever entertainment would have ratcheted up a pile of notches to be a powerful and memorable one.
An edited version of this review appeared in The West Australian of 20.2.11 link here