Was there a point? Taylor Mac at Carolina Performing Arts

New York theatre artist Taylor Mac is in town again. I had high hopes for this show, but they were soon dashed. I’d seen Mac at PRC2 a few years ago in a one-man show that indicated his talents but was far too self-indulgent; I’d seen him do a really excellent interpretation of the emcee in PlayMakers’ Cabaret. I thought, based on those experiences, that this one-man show, with band, would be really interesting. I stayed for the whole thing, but nothing interesting happened.

Taylor Mac wears a different outfit for his CPA performance. The hat is much much bigger. Photo: Ves Pitts.

Taylor Mac wears a different outfit for his CPA performance. The hat is much much bigger.          Photo: Ves Pitts.

Mac is in Chapel Hill for a two-night run at Carolina Performing Arts of one section of his very long work purporting to present–then deconstruct the shit out of (quote)–key popular music in the US, decade by decade, from 1776 on. The current show covers the 1910s. Between songs, Mac tosses off snippets of comically simplistic history–so simplistic as to be dangerous.

How is it even possible for a politically activist artist to bring up the 1910s without mentioning the Suffragist movement and its songs?  (The influenza pandemic that came on the heels of WWI didn’t get a notice, either.)  Mac spent a considerable time on how the US population turned from isolationist to war-ready, but not one word for our sisters in white who used their backing of the US entry into to the war as the final lever to force President Wilson into supporting women’s full citizenship. Not. One. Word. And you know, I’d bet money that there were bull dykes among them–Taylor Mac’s “favorite people in the world!”

That I could hear to understand even this much of the performance on Oct. 1 was due to the fact that I moved from a close seat, to mid-house, and finally to the back rows. The sound mix was terrible, with the band (which was very good, when one wasn’t struggling to understand lyrics) overriding Mac on every song. Mac’s voice was rough–it sounded like he’d had a bad cold and hadn’t recovered his range. He consistently torched out his microphone by substituting volume for nuance, which just made for a rocky slurry of sound, unmitigated by the sound board operator. The only songs I could get every word of were sung by the un-miked UNC Clef Hangers, who assisted in a couple of the skits.

The piece is performance art, no doubt about that. Somewhere in its tedious length, Taylor Mac asserts that unlike other performance types, performance art is always a success, simply because it happens. I cannot agree. Taylor Mac also claims to be “fostering community” with the puerile audience participation stunts that form a crucial part of his performance. And he uses the horrible trendy word “agency.”

That’s problematic, sweetheart, as Mac might say.

On the plus side, what Mac doesn’t know about make-up, sequins and glitz is not worth knowing. Mac’s costuming is also fantastic, and offers much pleasure. He’s got great legs.

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