Taylor Mac (center) is Lily in The Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre. Here in Act 1, “A Princess Musical” directed by Meredith McDonough, he is surrounded by The Marys (from left) Jason Brock, Amy Kossow and Dave End. Below: In Act 3, “A Dream Ballet,” directed and choreographed by Erika Chong Shuch, Bride Love is played by Rowena Richie and her flower girls are (from left) Erin Mei-Ling Stuart and Ara Glenn-Johanson. Photos by Pak Han
Sitting at the computer, hands hovering over the keyboard, I’ve been staring at the screen wondering where to begin describing and opining about The Lily’s Revenge at the Magic Theatre.
Adjectives don’t quite do it justice – much the way that a photograph of an oil painting never really captures the essence, vibrancy and presence of the original work. And the usual critical jabber – Don’t miss it! Theater event of the spring! Unforgettably unique! – seem paltry as well.
It’s not that Lily, the brainchild of writer/performer Taylor Mac, is a landmark work in Western theater canon or the reinvention of the art form as we know it. But it’s something incredibly special – a completely absorbing communal experience that turns out to be more than the sum of its abundant parts.
There’s a definite party vibe on all floors of Building D in Fort Mason Center. The Magic usually occupies space on the third floor, but for this epic, with five acts, nearly 40 actors and musicians and a running time of about 4 ½ hours, the company has spread out all over the building.
The main floor, when you enter, is where you pick up will call tickets and, if you’re in the mood, order the box meal you’ll receive between Acts 1 and 2 (price is $15 and the meal includes a sandwich, chips, a cookie, piece of fruit and a non-alcoholic beverage). You pass by what is usually a meeting room, but if you poke your head in, you’ll see it’s a ginormous dressing room for the large cast and their outsize costumes. The sounds of giggling and vocal warm-ups trickle out of the room.
As audience members gather outside the Magic’s auditorium, free red wine and coffee (usually available between Acts 1 and 2) are offered to bolster excitement and perhaps provide some added stamina. This is the start of a long haul.
When it’s time to enter the theater, Kat Wentworth as the Card Girl, bangs a gong and gives us instructions. One key thing to note: she requests that for the first two (of three) intermissions, keep all mobile technology off and interact with fellow audience members instead. During the final intermission, communication with the outside world is actively encouraged.
Once inside the theater, you’re strapped in for the ride (metaphorically speaking), and though you could conceivably jump off during an intermission, that would be a mistake – if only because the intermissions contain entertainments as varied and as fun as the show itself.
Five acts, six directors (one for the intermissions), nearly five hours and a cast larger than some operas. Those are the basic parameters. Each act is performed in a different style – musical theater, dance, verse play, film and camp-drag extravaganza – and each time you come back into the theater, you’ll find it in a different configuration (and you won’t be sitting in the same seat or near the same people). Huge kudos to the directors for their outstanding and varied work: Meredith McDonough, Marissa Wolf, Erika Chong Shuch, Erin Gilley, Jessica Holt and Jessica Heidt.
In terms of the show itself, here’s a little of what you can expect. You will be dazzled by Lindsay W. Davis’ costume designs. He turns the botanical world into a glitzy hot house of roses with killer thorns, a sunflower queen with the most regal headgear this side of African royalty, a pile of dirt that becomes a gorgeous glamazon gal, an infectious disease with staggering member and so, so much more. There’s beauty, humor and dazzle in the pageantry of Davis’ marvelous creations.
You will fall under the spell of Taylor Mac, whose script is so smart, so funny and so incredibly rich with delights that you may be a little resentful to find that he’s also a consummate actor/comedian/singer. He stars as Lily, a potted plant from a home in Daly City who’s being taken to see his first play. At first, he looks like an asparagus crossed with Claudette Colbert, but then you fall for this budding thespian and love him, petals and all. Captivated by the magic of the theater, Lily works his way into the narrative (with the help of Time played by the wonderful Jeri Lynn Cohen) and becomes the hero: a plant who longs to be the groom to the beautiful bride (a silvery voiced Casi Maggio).
There’s a scene in Act 1 when Lily becomes so caught up in the rush of being a theatrical diva that he envisions an entire theater career in one glorious monologue. I immediately wanted to hit rewind and watch him do it again. But there’s no time in a 4 ½-hour show for revisiting. The show must move on.
And so it does. The villain of the piece is The Great Longing, a red velvet theatrical curtain played with bravura gusto by Mollena Williams, and her mission is to keep the world mired in nostalgia and, as we hear over and over again, “institutional narrative” aka the romantic illusion of weddings.
From act to act, we check in on Lily’s journey to woo the bride away from her human (and barely dressed) groom (Paul Baird) and his quest to free Dirt (Monique Jenkinson, also known as Fauxnique and this show’s very busy, very creative makeup designer) for reasons that are too complicated to go into.
In fact, the plot is filled with absurdity as it weaves metaphor and myth and fable in ways that would please John Waters and Joseph Campbell. But as silly as things get, there’s always depth to Mac’s writing and especially to his performance as Lily, a character you immediately love and trust. Then, when Mac sings (the delightfully tuneful score is by Rachelle Garniez and Mac), time stops, and so does the show. A ferociously captivating singer, Mac has a voice that gives you shivers, makes you smile and makes you sad – all at the same time. Magnificent.
I can honestly say that I did not look at my watch once while I was on the Lily’s Revenge ride. I was exhausted by the end – the final scene, in which Mac’s charms are stripped down to their bare essentials and as powerful as ever, had me all emotional – but I loved every minute.
This is a completely unique theatrical experience, one that the Magic should take full credit for orchestrating with panache. This could have been one giant, spangled chaotic mess, but it’s a triumph. It’s an extraordinarily wonderful event infused with utter absurdity and artistic genius.
There’s so much more to the show that I haven’t even begun to touch upon, but I’ve said enough. You should just go experience The Lily’s Revenge for yourself. It’s community theater in the truest sense – created, performed and enjoyed by an open-hearted, appreciative community that is created in a mere 4 ½ hours.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge continues through May 22 at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street. Tickets are $30-$75. Call 415-441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org for information.