Get us in your inbox


The Lily's Revenge

  • Theater, Musicals
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The Lily's Revenge
Photograph: Courtesy of the artistThe Lily's Revenge

Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Taylor Mac tosses a rich bouquet of flower power.

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

Taylor Mac’s megatheatrical The Lily’s Revenge is a great big fantastical epic, and it calls for celebration. At a time when much of New York’s theater seems to have shrunk in the wash, here at HERE is a nearly five-hour feast that involves some 40 performers, six directors, a live band and a pyrotechnic array of costumes. Let us not condescend to the show simply because it looks so ramshackle-fabulous. In its bravery, scope, creativity, extremity and sheer generosity of spirit, The Lily’s Revenge, to my mind, surpasses any American theater in New York this year.

Lolling and popping at the bull’s-eye of the show is the playwright himself, one of the most exciting theater artists of our time. Mac wears his specialness on his face, in elaborate makeup creations that have become one of his signatures as a performer. As the title character in The Lily’s Revenge—a flower that frees itself from its pot to take center stage in a somewhat sinister marriage plot—his bald head is an explosion of orange, yellow and white, dotted with careful rows of red sequins. He’s a Fabergé clown: at once beautiful and ridiculous, and full of hidden tricks.

The same could be said of the project as a whole. To describe it in detail is to risk diminishing its capacity to elicit happy gasps of surprise, but some idea of the show’s breadth-taking and width-holding ambition is in order. This is a play that includes, in no particular order: more than a dozen witty songs, set to Rachelle Garniez’s smart retro music (largely in vaudeville and Weimar styles); nearly an entire act in poetry (iambic blank verse, rhyming couplets and haiku); a dream ballet; interactive exhibits during intermissions; a film with dolls for actors; a Noh-inspired five-act structure; a hero’s journey; a lavish orgy; actors dressed as a tick, the pope and a sexually transmitted disease; and an elaborate striptease by a man draped in a theatrical curtain, who winds up nearly naked and poking out of strategically placed gold tassels.

The play is a hothouse garden of unearthly delights, most extravagantly manifested in its divinely makeshift-glamorous costumery—a heroically imaginative effort by Machine Dazzle (and makeup designer Derrick Little). But Mac’s vision goes beyond the wacky fantasia that the descriptions above may so far suggest, for The Lily’s Revenge, though often very funny in its execution, is surprisingly serious in its intent. Mac’s ethos of individualism and community, explicitly articulated toward the end of the play, has clear roots in the 1960s, but his notion of flower power is thornier than one might think.

Part of what makes the experience so delirious is that Mac subverts his own story at every opportunity. The villain of the piece, played with orotund flair by the fearless James Tigger! Ferguson, is called the Great Longing: He appears in the form of a red theater curtain, and represents the perilous allure of conventionality. “Nostalgia is a sadness without an object,” notes his parent, Time (embodied with sharp poise by Bianca Leigh), in a self-consciously academic passage. “The past it seeks has never existed except as narrative.” The Lily’s central quest is to become a man and marry a Bride, played with flavorful frenzy and hummingbird-wing vibrato by Amelia Zirin-Brown (also known as the cabaret singer Lady Rizo) and then with desperate comic energy by the burlesque performer Darlinda Just Darlinda. But nothing ever goes quite as expected. The show is not unlike a hippie symbolist drama filtered through the wild camp of Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, then spun on its head until dizzy and slapped back into sobriety.

The Lily’s Revenge does not run as smoothly as this year’s other marathon achievements, Ariane Mnouchkine’s Les Éphémères and Robert Lepage’s Lipsynch. The aesthetic is scrappy. The seams are visible. The cast—which also notably includes Heather Christian, Daphne Gaines and the World Famous *BOB*—is enthusiastic and uneven. And that’s all as it should be: This play is not vying for polished immortality; it is living in its moment, which happens also to be ours. “One thing is certain, and the rest is lies,” wrote Edward Fitzgerald in a version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. “The flower that once has blown forever dies.” Mac’s achievement is as ephemeral as a bloom. See it before it fades into nostalgia itself. You are sure to forget it not.

HERE. By Taylor Mac. Music by Rachelle Garniez. Dir. Paul Zimet, Rachel Chavkin, Faye Driscoll, Aaron Rhyne, David Drake, Kristin Marting. With ensemble cast. 4hrs 45mins. Three intermissions.

Theater stars shoot New York: Taylor Mac
Taylor MacTONY talked with Mac regarding 2007’s The Young Ladies of...

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


You may also like
You may also like