Taylor Mac, early on his performance, sings a story of a married man who meets him on the other side of town “to watch TV.”
Moving between two spotlights on stage, Mac contrasts the married man fretting over his pregnant wife on one side of town and meeting with him, in secret, for sex on the other.
Just because we tell ourselves and others that we are “going to watch TV” does not mean that is all we actually intend to do.
Segue to the politics of fear.
The persona Mac presents on stage is one of a sensitive soul, perhaps too sensitive for his own good, nerves stripped raw as much by the normal slings and arrows of daily life and love as by a political climate of fear and instability.
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac is a tangled web of talk of unattended bags, suspicious packages, lovers past, fear of the unknown, drag, and the narrow limits in which we are allowed to express ourselves in society.
It’s no use to point out that this is just how people are: Taylor Mac would like to see a world in which people paid more than lip service to being better, to rising above. When he sings that everything is going to be all right over and over, it becomes a mantra, a magical incantation to ward off the bogey men (some surely imagined but many sadly all too real) that inevitably rise to the occasion in a climate of fear.
His songs, performed on ukulele, are touching, recursive, ballads of life near the ragged edge. There’s this sense of nearing some new realization about life and love without ever quite arriving.
The show slips from tender to manic and from contemplative to torn and frayed so fast it can be a bit confusing.
But, then, so does life.
The drag — the fierce tatterdemalion array of feather boas, sequins, and nylon in which he struts the stage — is employed as a silent conspirator to hammer home the points he is making. If the way he is dressed is outrageous or unacceptable, why is that? That’s the subversive aspect of the show: to put audiences in the position of having to think through their own presumptions and expectations.
As he says right in the beginning, he assumes that those in attendance are already at least somewhat inclined to think this way. He just wants to tug us a bit closer, to see how far we’ll go with it.
“I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds me,” he says. “I’m just trying to get some lipstick on it.”
That seems fair. When there is nothing to fear but fear itself, one small kiss of corruption ought not to worry us too much.
If it does, why is that?
The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac • Spoleto Festival USA • $25 • 1 hour 30 min. • May 31, June 1, June 2 at 10 p.m. • Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. • (843) 579-3100