A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose, Gertrude Stein insisted, but a lily is something else entirely, particularly when embodied by Taylor Mac in shredded, spangly green tights and immoderate makeup. Mac, a writer and drag performer of singular ambition and idiosyncrasy, makes a garden bloom in The Lily’s Revenge at Here. Gleefully queer and desperately untidy, this five-hour, 40-performer epic, subtitled A Flowergory Manifold, follows a blossom’s attempt to make a man of itself.
Once a dumb plant, Mac’s Lily has attained consciousness and mobility via the tender ministrations of Amelia (Amelia Zirin-Brown), a grad student who believes in conversing with flora. Lily longs to marry Amelia, but she quails at interspecies nuptials. If Lily can become a man in four hours’ time, she’ll wed him; otherwise, she’ll choose a boorish human groom.
Mac’s play draws on a plenitude of genres: Noh drama, stop-motion animation, American musical theater, and Carolingian masquerade. The presence of eight different directors, choreographers, and filmmakers encourages the stylistic bedlam. The directors prove more and less capable, and the cast, drawn largely from the burlesque scene, boasts widely (and wildly) varying abilities. Mac, as he has demonstrated in previous shows such as Red Tide Blooming, is an affecting performer. No matter how skimpy his outfits or outlandish his makeup, he projects a reticent sweetness onstage. Though he plays the lead, I often found myself wishing he had written a larger role for himself (and perhaps for the charming Heather Christian) and trimmed much of the rest.
But the play’s excesses and engorged running time are deliberate. The Lily’s Revenge is an allegory, er, flowergory, of gay marriage, a floral alternative to straight weddings. The brides, grooms, flowers, band, and multi-hour ceremony are present—all that’s missing are the heteronormative conventions. (And cake! After five hours, there ought to be cake.) Stepping out of character for a moment, Mac announces his play as a kind of ceremony, which “strives to inspire everyone to make a commitment to each other.” That’s quite a proposal. Consider saying, “I do.”