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Theatre in Review: Taylor Mac: Holiday Sauce...Pandemic! (Pomegranate Arts)

Taylor Mac

The writer and performance artist Taylor Mac is known for outlandish getups, but even hardcore Mac fans may be startled by the Carmen-Miranda-meets-The-Jolly-Green-Giant ensemble seen in Holiday Sauce...Pandemic! Quite apart from the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables harvested into a massive tiara, the performer's painted face is a mural of foodstuffs: a squash across the forehead, apple (or are they tomato?) cheeks, and zucchinis along the jawline. Of course, one must complete such an ensemble with glittery opera gloves. The costume is by Machine Dazzle, the makeup by Anastasia Durasova, Mac's longtime partners in Dada design concepts, and clearly this one-of-a-kind holiday season has given them extra jolts of inspiration.

Holiday Sauce...Pandemic! is the online version of a yuletide entertainment that Mac has previously presented at New York's Town Hall; think all of the Christmas-themed television specials of your youth, filtered through an anarchic, magpie LGBTQ+ sensibility and dedicated to those for holly and tinsel come packed with microaggressions and feelings of alienation. The target audience is easily identified: If the idea of a pansexual, gender-fluid seasonal entertainment is as appealing as virgin eggnog, you can always turn to Turner Classic Movies. Even gays and lesbians with more traditional sensibilities have the option of checking out those squeaky-clean same-sex holiday romances that are all the rage on cable channels this year.

Even on its own terms, however, Holiday Sauce...Pandemic! may not be for everyone. It is billed as "a virtual vaudeville" and, as is usually true of such grab bags, some things are fresher than others. The spectacle of Mac, in a pink foam tutu and a headdress seemingly left over from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1913, teasing innuendos out of "O Holy Night" made me flinch a little, not so much because of the impiety as the staleness. The same goes for a sequence featuring James "Tigger" Ferguson, stripping out of his red long johns to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." This is tacky 3am-in-the-gay-bar stuff, transgressive only if you were born yesterday. (Admittedly, the number's surreal finale, in which Ferguson, dressed as a poppy, flies around, putting various right-politicians to sleep, is certain to be a crowd-pleaser.) A brief foray into theology, ending with a condemnation of that "misogynistic closet case Saul of Tarsus," feels equally picked over.

Then again, Mac's rendition of "O Holy Night" is followed by a shivery, straight-up version by the stunning Thornetta Davis, her voice radiating with power and a sense of wonder; a little while later, Steffanie Christi'an (like Davis, a new face to me) delivers some equally powerful vocals. Mac contributes a sly folk tune, set to a delightful animation by Dana Lyn (who also plays violin!) about a childhood spent navigating a maze of dysfunctional family holiday gatherings -- proving once again what a surprising and emotionally acute artist he can be. Mac's affection for his fellow performers -- which includes Glenn Marla as "Sexual Consent Santa," Dusty Childers as Mrs. Claus, and sidhe degreene as a Baby Jesus like you've never seen before -- is fierce; the performer is a proud celebrant of community. Indeed, the entire enterprise is conceived as a tribute to Flawless Sabrina, a now-deceased elder stateswoman and drag beauty contest entrepreneur. (She achieved cinematic immortality in the 1968 documentary The Queen, about one of her projects, The Miss All-American Camp Beauty Contest.) Sabrina was, apparently, something of a mentor to Mac, teaching the performer the importance of self-constructed queer families who hand down wisdom from one generation to the next.

This reverence for queer history is felt most deeply in the presentation of "The 2020 Queens," a worldwide parade of videos celebrating queer activists of previous generations, all of them still going strong. (You can read about them at the show's website; they are an extraordinary bunch of pioneering figures, all dedicated to giving back.) It's a marvelous display that captures the true spirit of the season. these heroes have faced down prejudice, marginalization, condemnation, the depredations of time, and the devastation of AIDS; they're not going to let a little global pandemic get them down.

The entertainment, constructed out of video performances from all over, has been slickly packaged by director Jeremy Lydic, and the performances benefit from the impeccable musical direction of Matt Ray. Holiday Sauce...Pandemic! doesn't totally succeed in wrapping up cheerful bits of blasphemy, vintage queer camp, and heartfelt sincerity into the perfect gift package, but even for those who don't count as Mac fans it has some lovely moments, and its central message is certainly apropos for this time of year: Everyone belongs with their family, it insists, even if it's one you have to make up. You can access the show at www.TaylorMacHolidaySauce.com

(5 January 2021)

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