Taylor Mac is not what most people think of when the term "drag queen" is thrown out. He doesn't lip synch to Whitney Houston, and his dresses aren't about creating the illusion of being an overly made up starlet on the red carpet.
He wears highly imaginative outfits, such as a necklace constructed of deflated balloons; and make-up and hair that come from tribal and ritual traditions—more to the point, the art of mask. He writes his own songs—alternately biting, poignant and funny—and sings them while playing his ukulele. And he writes his own plays, including, a five-act, 36-actor work called The Lily's Revenge that played at New York's HERE Arts Center in 2009.
For the past four years, he has toured his play The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac—he makes the point that his writings are "plays," and not "performance art pieces"—which is a combination of stand-up, monologue, physical theater, political diatribe and musical, created from snippets of the work he has performed in the past decade.
He's currently performing it at Undermain Theatre, making his Texas debut (despite that his father was from Abilene). And yes, you should see it.
For one, he's retiring this play after the performances in Dallas and then Miami. But it's mostly recommended because it is unlike any drag performance you've seen, or might ever see—unless you see him again in something else. He calls himself a "theater artist working in the genre of pastiche," and that's a fitting description. His style comes more from the commedia dell'arte tradition, and his character is similar to the clown Pierrot (which stems from the commedia character Pedrolino).
In this show, Mac is a dreamer and sometimes a sad figure, but he's also bold, intelligent and viciously funny. His songs are brimming with wit, born from personal experience.
TheaterJones sat down with Mac for the video below, to talk about this show and his work. He also discusses the difference between surprise and shock, and goes on about other drag artists, including Charles Ludlam, Charles Busch, Varla Jean Merman and, yes, Lady Gaga. And he offers interesting insight into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire.
He's definitely a theater artist first, and his drag persona is a character created to keep himself from being bored with the New York theater world.
If you see the show (really, it is a must) be sure to wear something that stands out—a shiny scarf, brooch, hat, something. As you'll notice in this video, which was conducted in the kitchen of Undermain's underground space, even out of character, he throws a little shine into his ensemble.
It, like his show, is big on the sparkle.
Cover photo of Taylor Mac by Robert Hart of Robert Hart Photography.