I think it’s fair for me to say, as a guy my age dealing with my socioeconomic level, that I’ve seen a lot of theater. While most boys save their pennies for the latest videogame system or computer game, I was busy reading something, not working, and trying to scam a door guy at some low level performance art house. That said, you won’t catch me at too many Broadway Productions, but I’ve seen enough to understand what they’re about. I know experimental theater best. You know, the weird stuff. The stuff so off the wall an audience member might be paid to see so the creative team doesn’t feel their work was in vain.
I can’t help myself. I love theater. I’d go to more Broadway shows if I could afford them, but I can’t, so I stick to shows at PS122 or wherever I can get a reasonably priced ticket. When I first heard of The Lily’s Revenge, I was excited that for $20 I’d get five hours of theater. It’s like a junky suddenly getting thirty bags for the price of ten! But then there was the fear of overdosing and I felt that fear creeping in as a probability as I waited in the rush ticket line from 9am-7pm the first time I saw the show, feeling ever so terrible from my escapade the evening before involving no sleep, lots of drugs/booze and casual sex.
It’s been about a year and a half, and I remember thinking as I waited in line, “This is it. I’m gonna walk outta here a full blown junkhead or I’m going to overdose and be really pissed off.” Even as the play began and the actress playing Time warned the audience that we’d all die or be stuck inside the play forever, I knew it must be fate. I’d waited this long though so there was no way of turning back, a junky never turns back…
Now zoom forward a year and a half and my life has radically changed! I’m living in NYC and I’m a full-fledged Lily lovin’ zombie! Oh what a difference five hours (and a year and a half) can make when not planted in front of the television munching on popcorn and slurping fingers for tidbits of greasy chicken. Living in NYC afforded me the lovely opportunity to meet Taylor Mac (whose theatrical outer exterior suggests he’s a club kid that got smart and done good!) last winter and after listening to him gush about the re-staging of The Lily’s Revenge in San Francisco, I knew I needed to return to that city to mainline my favorite drug, and so that’s exactly what JT and I did. We contacted the Magic Theater, found a way to get tickets without having to pay for them (THANK YOU PATTIE!) and headed west…
It was weird for me because the first time I saw The Lily’s Revenge I had traveled in opposite directions: I’d come from my old homestead in San Francisco to NYC to dose myself on ten days of theater. For ten days JT and I saw one to two plays a day, and The Lily’s Revenge was just another name of a play I was supposed to try and see before I saw it. Now, The Lily’s Revenge means so much more to me. It’s the one show that I know will “take me there.” Nothing I have ever seen is as unique and thoughtfully put together as The Lily’s Revenge. Future play writes beware: your works have major competition in my heart…
A major reason The Lily’s Revenge is so life changing lays in its communal spirit. No other play that I’ve seen is as radically interactive as The Lily’s Revenge. Unless you’re blind, deaf and mute, it’s just about impossible for you to go see the show and not walk away with a new friend. I made my first new friend the moment I sat down. The elderly woman seated next to me struck up a conversation with me. I told her my love for Taylor Mac and she was thrilled to hear it because she was feeling a little apprehensive about the five hour part of the disclaimer for the show. A few moments later Taylor Mac (dressed as the lily) started to hobble up the aisle. The woman then asked if I knew about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. I whispered a quick hello to Taylor then returned my attention to the woman. She then told me her boyfriend wants to join the Sisters but can’t pass the high heel test, referencing Taylor as he hobbled into the seat directly behind us.
Ten minutes later the play was in full swing and the spotlight hit Taylor for the first time since he had left the audience to join the play. He stole the show from the moment he got up there and the audience erupted in laughter as everyone seated seemingly joined him and I was swept away once again.
Having seen the show before in NYC, I focused a lot of my attention on observing the audience’s reactions. San Francisco and NYC are my two favorite cities in the country for many reasons but a big part of my love for them is due to their vast differences and similarities. For example, when the Bride called Time a “shriveled up, old, feminist, nazi, lesbian” few in the SF audience seemed to think it was funny. The line brought the house down in NYC but in San Francisco the audience by and large seemed to identify with the definition, leaving the use of it in an offensive context to make them furrow their brows. Oh San Francisco (M-F-TF-M-T-MT-F-M-F Queen that you are)! How I love you and your identity politics!
Another thing about the play I love are the parties and interactive performances that take place in between acts. It’s like every intermission is a “happening” in and of itself, and the cast in SF sure knew how to party! During the first intermission I even exchanged cheek kisses with the costume designer! For those of you that saw the show you understand just how wondrous a soul the designer possesses.
Another highlight came a few intermissions later when I received a dildo massage by another cast member. I didn’t realize she was thumping dildos on my back till the very end, when I sat up and asked what she was using to extract the tension in my back. Brilliant.
An additional great example of the interactive, celebratory nature of the play came in Act 3 when the Bride announces she needs the toilet that’s placed in the audiences seating area… seconds later she pushed an older gentleman off the toilet and he sat next to me on the floor laughing hysterically. After exchanging glances I couldn’t help but join him in ecstatic exhalation. Meanwhile the disgruntled bride fearing monogamy proceeded to try a plethora of things she’d never tried, before she ultimately sealed the deal. One of her experiments involved eating pussy for the first time, and the majority of the cast onstage, largely comprised of the Flower Girls, erupted into absolute chaos while the bride munched on a fellow actress. Behind the chaos (which I might add, was better executed in SF in comparison to NYC) Taylor, The Lily, ever so slowly moved across the background of the stage with Time dressed as wind standing before him, beckoning him onward, creating a great moment of audience participation and rejection, and minute movement versus slap-stick comedic chaotic movement.
Now, sadly, I must confess my only major qualm with the production of The Lily’s Revenge in San Francisco. For those unfamiliar with the play, its plot is basically about a lily trying to marry a woman. The lily is told by an evil Curtain that a lily can’t marry a woman and so the lily goes on a quest to prove that it can. The Curtain is the arch nemesis of the lily and is the plays villain. In NYC, the actor that played the Curtain, James Tigger! Ferguson, did an outstanding job instilling fear in the audience. He thoroughly invoked a balance of humor and evil from the moment the play began until the very end. His greatest moment came during Act 3 when he is stripped of his curtain, providing the audiences with one of the greatest burlesque performances I’ve seen while being literally stripped of his power. Shortly after however, the cast builds him back up as a powerful force to be reckoned with by placing red cocktail napkins on his body and covering him up again. Unfortunately, the woman that played the Curtain in SF failed to invoke any sort of fear and she didn’t come across as all that evil either. At her initial entrance to the stage I thought her casting was a great idea; she seemed like a powerful black woman, one that I expected would come across as a dominatrix/disciplinarian type well versed in the art of burlesque. Her first take to the stage exuded power but her delivery continually grew weaker as her curtain persona shrank along with her. By Act 3, when I was expecting to watch her deliver a burlesque performance comparable to what I saw in NYC, I sadly saw nothing and felt she needed to go to both Dom and Burlesque school in order to accurately fill the role she was cast for. I’m sorry Mollena Williams, I’m sure you’re a lovely soul (a bit too lovely, it seems), but the play is a Hero’s Journey and it’s essential that a hero’s journey have a strong domineering evil villain to move away from.
By and large, the casting in NYC was stronger than the one of the SF showing. Not to say the SF cast wasn’t talented, or that it didn’t have it’s amazing performers, rather, it seemed just a gentle reminder of how drastically hodgepodge and untogether-all-over the place SF is compared to NYC. That said, those are two traits of SF that I love (you all know how hodgepodge and un-put together I can be)! In spite of me sometimes feeling this way, what is most import for this five hour mega play is that the energy is there: the communal spirit that the play inspires and the bond that forms between cast and audience that no other play I’ve seen champions the way that Lily’s does. This energy, which is at the heart of The Lily’s Revenge and what I feel is the essence of the experience, I can happily say, is in San Francisco in spades. In fact, my friends that saw it there for the first time probably didn’t detect any of my inner thoughts at all. They were all whisked away to where I had been a year and a half ago and that was a beautiful thing to watch. If anyone has ever wondered what happened to David Bowie, well let me tell you, his soul fled to a California boy named Taylor Mac because it was tired of only writing songs and needed to write a five hour play. It knew the revolution wouldn’t be televised and it needs more than song to succeed, it needs an entire community.
HERE’S WHAT SOME OF YOU HAD TO SAY:
I faked crippling gas to skip work and see the play. I had no idea what to expect, except eating like a camel before to prepare for the length of it. 5 hours. And not one moment did it feel 5 hours long. Glitter, radicals, and fierce trannies! It’s impossible not to fall in love with Taylor.
Hi! I brought my mother with me from Albuquerque, NM to see Lily’s revenge. During the first act we sat separately and my mom met a man from the UK who had come to San Francisco just to see the play. By the third intermission she took a picture of him with a giant daisy and exchanged email addresses so she could send him the picture. I loved this play so much my heart hurts. In fact, it made me question a lot of the decisions I’ve made in my life so far. It made wonder what is possible for me, if this play is possible. I loved the play and the cast and Taylor Mac with all my heart. I didn’t want it to stop because I just wanted my whole life to be like that night! Thanks!
It was an interactive blissful rage of blossoming verse and verve. It was hard to tell what sort of spin San Fran could bring to this tale of adoring agriculture. The cast bursting with life.. and uhm.. death as it were beckoned me into a magical world for an unfelt 5 hours. I danced and I cried and was forever illuminated by the works of a one, Taylor. My sweet Lily moved me in ways that only a plant probably could.
Tongues flailing ebbs of shrieks and swarming laps around the stage that end in cartoon writhing. And there was some suggestion of transformative thinking but a performance of a narrative and then deployment of non-linear-narrative tropes that seemed just as strict. The intermissions inevitably became as memorable as the play: a time when most of the chorus-like-cast members taking on sideshow acts that often beckoned participation and showcased their talents. The dildo massage felt great. I was fascinated by the crowd, and computing how it was maybe different in ny. here in san fran, where theater feels so small, people who dress up for the theater were there. Like suburban broadway glamour, which I suspect experimental downtown New York City theater would have to beg for.
If you’ve seen the play, please send us your review to include in our communal review!!!
NOW, TO WRAP IT ALL UP:
The Lily’s Revenge is the most generous theatrical performance I’ve ever participated in. This is not to say that I have appeared in The Lily’s Revenge, or that I have had anything to do with it at all except for attending two different performances of it, it is merely to say that to see The Lily’s Revenge is in many ways to be in it. To live in it. To share in a theatrical event of such magnitude that there is no way for you, as long as your memory is functioning normally, to ever forget it. What Taylor Mac has given us is one of the more selfless acts of love I have ever witnessed, while simultaneously being one of the more self-celebratory. With The Lily’s Revenge, Taylor gives us a little bit of everything beautiful, important and theatrical, while somehow putting himself at the pieces center. The fact that he even fits as much wonder as he does into his five hour opus still seems nearly impossible and I say this even though I’ve been living with this play inside of me for over a year and a half now. I have never seen so convincing a display of one person’s love for the theater and to share in it is a life changing experience.
Though Lily’s is by no means a perfect play it is a bold and triumphant one. It makes its points gracefully without being very graceful. It manages to somehow be both extreme and intimate, beautiful and ugly, comic and tragic…so many contradictory things.
Seeing a new production of a play you love is always an exciting and worrisome endeavor; seeing a new production of a play you REAAAALLY love is even more worrisome. I had talked up The Lily’s Revenge a lot to my friends and acquaintances in the year and a half since I had seen it, telling many of my closest non-theater going friends that I had seen something that even they would have loved to have been a part of. They rolled their eyes and smiled at me, possibly believing me but secretly thrilled that they would never have to endure the five hour work I was describing. When it was announced that The Lily’s Revenge was coming in an all new production to my home state and that I would be going, my friends all knew that they were now expected to attend. Quiet terror was in their souls.
As the lights went down at The Magic Theater and the play began, I kept a quick eye on my friends seated across from me, praying that they would feel some of what I felt before, hoping that at last this would be the kind of theater we could share in and celebrate together. My foot tapped, I laughed nervously and my eyes darted back and forth from the action unfolding in front of me, to my friends unsuspecting faces on the opposite side of the stage. At first I was unsure what they were thinking, nervous that maybe this was it, the moment I fucked up and would lose their trust, a moment where the thing I am most passionate about outside of my personal life would fail to transcend, and then…Taylor took to the stage, my friends faces turned to smiles, then to bigger smiles and finally they all started to laugh. Suddenly we all breathed in together and arrived collectively at a universal theatrical experience, and somehow that experience continued to last until the lights went down some five-ish hours later. For that opportunity alone I will forever be thankful.
To describe the plot of The Lily’s Revenge is kind of like describing the plot of The Bible, so I’ll refrain from trying to do that. It should be noted however that there is a plot and it is involving, it’s just hard to do it any sort of justice here in a summary. In one sentence I’ll say that there is a lily that wants to marry a lady but has to go on a hero’s quest and do many nearly impossible things for the chance to do so. Thematically the play is mostly about community (ie the cast and the audience) and the pitfalls of institutionalization — with particular regards to relationships (ie marriage) and stories with stock characters (ie narrative theater). Of course there is a lot more going on than a dissertation on these themes and the play is a hell of a lot more fun than I just made it sound, but that’s why I’d rather talk about how the play made me feel as opposed to what the play is “about.”
The production itself was wonderful. The cast was talented, the sets and costumes were spectacular and the energy was overwhelming and infectious. There were some things in San Francisco that were better than they were in New York, and other aspects that New York’s production took the cake for. The San Francisco production’s third act “Dream Ballet” in which we see all of the bride and groom’s hopes and desires fully manifested by their dream personas, was far clearer and more engaging than I’d found it to be in New York. In fact, I thought this act was the San Francisco versions greatest improvement on the play. There was a clarity that was lacking when I’d seen it before and the act packed a surprisingly powerful punch. That is, at least the ballet segment of the act did… Unfortunately where San Francisco’s production failed was in the casting of Mollena Williams as The Curtain or “The Great Longing.” In New York the roll had been played by a male, James Tigger! Ferguson, and initially the thought of the plays villain being played by a plus sized black woman struck me as an exciting and bold new choice. I anticipated a domineering, boisterous, soulful and terrifying performance and sat on the edge of my seat waiting for Williams to show her teeth. Unfortunately, those teeth when gnashed were of the toddler variety. You can’t have a hero save the day without a life threatening evil to save the day from. James Tigger! Ferguson’s performance in New York at the end of the third act struck terror into everyone in the audience’s soul, giving the play the balance it needed and keeping the drama from being only of the more sentimental sort. Without his comedic timing or dramatic prowess, the great longing continually came off more like The Petty Wanting. That this very integral part of the show was unsuccessful and the show as a whole still was a success speaks even greater for the play that Taylor has written and for the production that The Magic has mounted.
Just as it was in New York, between three of the play’s five acts the audience was sent out of the theater and into the rest of the building to participate in various activities and performances while the theater is re configured for the next act. At the first intermission, all of my friends and I were led outside and down a fire escape with a breathtaking San Francisco bay sunset as our backdrop. As if we hadn’t felt like we were in Oz already, this confirmed our arrival. The world of the play seemed to have exploded into the sunset and we were whisked away with a few others to a private cabaret. We sat on blankets and smiled as we listened to two members from the cast sing us show tunes and standards. We got gently groped, wrote and sang a song together and kissed our surrounding strangers and friends on the cheeks. We all fell in love again with each other, with the show we were seeing and with everyone around us. It was as if we all took a vow. At the show’s conclusion, we all sat side by side as Taylor instructed us towards the shows inevitable end. None of us were holding hands or looking into each other’s eyes but it somehow felt like we all were. None of us said I do, but it felt like we all did. Five hours after our arrival, after all the beauty and ceremony we had witnessed and been a part of, the lights went down and our smiles lit up. We were all Lily’s, all of us sunsets, all of us lovers and we all felt it. We all knew it. I didn’t even need to check my friend’s faces to be certain of it.
Special Thanks to Patti at The Magic Theater for getting Stephen and I press tickets and letting us take our friends to the show’s friend’s and family night preview. We thank her and the creative team for inducting us into their family before they even knew who we were and hope that with our collective reviews we have done all of them some justice for their love and hard work. You made too out of towners feel right at home.