Sunday, Sept. 9: Various venues
Why was it that the clown makeup bedecked drag queen moved me beyond description, but the well-pedigreed contemporary dance company from NYC left me cold?
This is what's been knocking around in my too-stuffed head this morning after seven consecutive hours of TBA: 07. Rushing from venue to venue in haste to catch the next big thing, it's all too easy to suffer from cultural over-saturation at TBA. Perhaps that's the point. But after one really excellent meal, why would you want to rush on to another?
I was ambling down Northwest Everett Street in the Pearl when I had my first "accidental" TBA experience: a chance encounter at NW 13th and Everett with a participant in the Fest's "Reading Out Loud" performance. As the late 30-something bearded white guy in t-shirt and jeans rattled off lines from Joseph Heller's Catch-22--"But he won't be there, will he?" "No - Major Major won't be back until after lunch..."--a trio of middle-aged suburbanites stopped and listened for maybe 30 seconds, bursting into spontaneous applause (catching the reader off guard mid-sentence) then rambled on down Everett. They were heading to the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center to catch Taylor Mac. So was I.
I missed Mac's performance at "The Works" in TBA: 06, but heard raves. His prodigious online collection of YouTube videos left me with mixed emotions.
Upon arriving at the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center, I had no idea I was in for one of this year's seminal TBA: 07 performances.
Taylor Mac belongs - like Kiki and Herb, Portland's soon-to-be-deceased Sissyboys and Ryan Landry's Gold Dust Orphans - to the school of dressed up, wigged out performers that might best be described as "post-drag." Unlike Justin Bond's convincing 70-something boozy chanteuse known as Kiki, Mac doesn't aim to create a fully-formed female character (or a crude impersonation of one). Instead, Taylor Mac looks like a Ben Nye theatrical makeup kit exploded on his face and wears a ratty wig that he likely coiffs, oh, once a decade.
It is from this unlikely face that some of the most riotously funny, wrenchingly painful and all-too-human stories and songs emerge in Mac's new show, The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac. As a self-described "subversive's jukebox musical," the artist offers 90 minutes of personal drama ("On the other side of town...," an extraordinary a cappella song on queer alienation), political rant (a surprisingly fresh and funny fantasy song about the Cheney-Hussein connection), and flat-out over-the-top camp hilarity, as when he invites five butch guys from the audience to the stage for a wild costume chase, as Mac screeches "Lookin' for the Mylar!!!!" and bangs aggressively on his ukelele.
"I write this show for gay people," Mac says in his show. "If you are heterosexual... you can listen." Mac is only half-joking. But, at his show's end, as he sat at the lip of the stage, wig-less and exhausted, he offered perhaps the most compelling argument for universal appreciation of his singular art. Riffing on the oft-repeated phrase that "we've nothing to fear but fear itself," after a thrillingly human performance in which his queer fears and loneliness were laid bare before us, Mac sang a simple song, with this chorus: "But I'm afraid of fear itself... fear itself.... fear itself," his voice trailing with each repeated line.
The Be(A)st of Taylor Mac was one of the most moving live theatre performances I've seen this year, and by far the best thus far at TBA.
Forty-five minutes later I was sitting at the Newmark Theatre, wondering what all the fuss was about the Donna Uchizono Company. 95 minutes of frigid minimalist movement executed by technically accomplished dancers in cute costumes to a rag-tag, sloppily edited quasi-music soundscape. Oh yeah, and a highly-anticipated appearance by some Russian dancing star, too.
Thirty minutes later: arrive at The Works, TBA's usually spectacular late-night art party. A Northwest band called Mirah & Spectratone International were singing and playing art-pop songs about insects with accompanying vibrant video. The crowd was seated, sedate. Lots of local celebrities, all comparing weekend TBA notes. TBA Artistic Director Mark Russell cut to the front of the drink line to retrieve a beverage for himself. Hmm.
The Wonder Ballroom is not a step in the right direction for TBA's popular "Works" late-night offerings. TBA: 06's "Works" in SE Portland was in a gritty, raw converted space, and one that kept the action all in the same close proximity. The Wonder Ballroom feels formal, it feels cramped, and it most definitely does not feel TBA.
(photo, above, of Taylor Mac)