To the best of my knowledge, Red Tape Theatre’s staging of The Walk Across America for Mother Earth as its entry in this year’s Steppenwolf Garage Rep marks just the second time a work by the fascinating performance artist Taylor Mac has been seen in Chicago, and the first time one’s been done without him. But Red Tape secured a director who gets Mac: Bonnie Metzgar (working here with assistance from Eric Hoff) was the producer who first brought Mac to Chicago at the beginning of her now-concluded tenure as artistic director of About Face Theatre in 2008, to perform his solo piece The Young Ladies of….
The Walk Across America is far from a solo piece, though Mac did appear as a version of himself in the large cast of its New York premiere in 2011. The play is a somewhat fudged recounting of a somewhat fuzzy protest march Mac joined as a teenager in 1992, heading from New York to a nuclear test site in Nevada. Along the way, the authorial stand-in, smartly played by Alex Grelle, and his BFMNF (best friend maybe not forever), played by Morgan McNaught, grow increasingly disillusioned with the purported cause as the so-called “utopian collective” around them collapses under the weight of human foibles.
With the entire ensemble painted in the elaborate makeup Mac favors and outfitted in outrageous costumes, and with Red Tape’s casting and ultra-game cast gleefully embracing a genderfuck aesthetic, The Walk is rather engrossing even at its messiest (and it’s rather messy). The piece’s illustration of the failure of ideals is relatable enough. But the wild characterizations and staging, which draw on both commedia and drag traditions, end up feeling alienating. Despite the explicit interactions and acknowledgements of the audience, we never feel part of this tribe.
Red Tape Theatre at Steppenwolf Garage. By Taylor Mac. Directed by Bonnie Metzgar with Eric Hoff. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; one intermission.