Sunday, February 5, 2012

PuSh 2012 Review #15/Critique #1: Taylor Mac at Club PuSh

At Club PuSh last night, Taylor Mac closed out the 2012 Festival with a show that, to me, represents the essence of PuSh: providing a shared experience of uncommon artistry that also reveals something about ourselves (and the world) we did not know, or wished not to examine, or maybe had willfully forgotten. Having toured The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac to the Festival and Club in 2009, this new work was born from a lazy, throwaway remark made by a reviewer of that earlier show, and then subsequently picked up by several other journalists: namely that Mac was a cross between David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and Tiny Tim--in other words a gender-bending, glitter-wearing "niche performer" who plays a ukulele.

Hence Comparison is Violence, or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook, in which, as Mac tells us, he sets out to explore, and either own or debunk, the analogy. In the process, he not only pays tribute to both artists' repertoires, but also contextualizes the links between them--and his own--in terms of a larger history of artistic influence and theatrical self-definition and re-invention. As Mac says at one point, referencing his own anxiety and shame at being seen as a Hedwig wannabe (a role for which he was at one point considered in the off-Broadway production of the John Cameron Mitchell/Steven Trask musical), the violence of comparison comes from its unthinking reductiveness, the way in which in our consumer culture we use it as a handy shorthand to signify taste and thus authorize a particular kind of acquisitiveness, be it in terms of financial or cultural capital. Whereas for Mac, who would never deny the importance of cultural influence and aesthetic mixing, what we should be doing is taking the time to provide a broader genealogy for why, as but one example, we think Lady Gaga is the new Madonna, and what each singer's immersion in the New York club scene in the late 90s and 70s, respectively, tells us about the different "subcultural" aesthetic currents then circulating, eventually "trickling up" to the pop cultural surface that is the terra mobile that most of us surf or skim.

However, as Mac also reminds us, there is a hole in the ozone layer, and these molecules of aesthetic influence are in danger of escaping forever unless we catch them and parse them and tell their stories in shows such as this one. And in our responses to them. Indeed, as engaged spectators, we are Mac's collaborators and co-creators (a point brilliantly illustrated last night not just through a bit of anti-matchmaking, but also through a closing sequence of collective mime involving a bit of imaginary chewing gum) and, as such, our duty is to honour the past in the present so that we can, in Mac's words, dream the story forward.

In this wise and wonderful work, Mac demonstrates to us that he is at once a performer working in the grand tradition of theatre and song and one unlike any other.


1 comment:

Dane said...

Wonderful. Beautifully said, Peter.

Dane B. McFadhen