What the Lily tells us

Magic Theatre presents: THE LILY’S REVENGE written by Taylor Mac with music composed by Rachelle Garniez… an unforgettable five hour experience.

Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution.
Mae West

You cannot experience any production by Taylor Mac without questioning the human condition and wondering why we all have deceived ourselves into believing conventional wisdom. The Lily’s Revenge is no exception. During this five hour party, circus and social experiment, we are reminded of all the preconceived notions we never dared to question. Why do we get married? What does being human mean? What IS a man? At the cast’s first meeting, Mac told everyone there that they are part of something that is far more than just a play. It is an unforgettable experience that will change us forever if we dare to listen to what the lines really mean. “I want you to have a wonderful time and not be afraid to go a little crazy,” he said…and after all going crazy can sometimes be the perfect medicine in this confused over-stimulated, fearful world we live in.

The Lily’s Revenge is a camp, exaggerated exploration of one lily’s journey to become a man. As we watch the exciting, overblown antics on stage, we see how ridiculous human interaction really is and we realize how much we as a society misrepresent what really matters in life. Jeri Lynn Cohen is the personification of time and sets the tone of the evening. She warns the audience that the play is very long. In fact, ”This play will last the rest of your life,” she says. “Make your escape now in this moment or this moment will be no more.” And she tells us as the play begins, “This is a tale that stars time and the lily.

Taylor Mac’s presence is the one consistent dramatic element that ties the five disparate acts together and gives depth and meaning to the songs and the frenetic action taking place on stage. He is the trigger that forces us to evaluate our most fundamental goals and dare to question them. It is he who stars as the lily who falls in love and cannot marry his bride until he becomes a person. He says, “I’ve never been on the stage before. I’m an organic flower who grew under grow lights.” And then he tells his audience, “I brought you into this play to put an end to institutionalized ritual.”

As each act unfolds, the lily loses one of his five petals as his idealism is chipped away, and still he tries to become an entity the bride will love. She tells him, “You are a lily but you have pulled yourself up from your roots.”

Mac named the first act “A Princess Musical” and in it we meet the bride dressed in mattress ticking who asks her groom (with a superman emblem on his crotch) “Why does it hurt so much to love you?” We meet Curtain who tells us, ”I give you the aging of the bride.” …but the aging is not in years, it is in understanding what she is contracted to be and do.

Each act is complete in itself and has its own special appeal. Mac explains it this way: “This is an allegory of how we have trivialized love.” And he goes on to explain that the production is a revolt against consumption and corporate greed. But it is more: it is an examination of how we have programmed ourselves to believe in institutions that smother us and erase our individuality. The bottom line is always that if you truly love, what does it matter if the object of your affection IS a lily, or a man or a woman or a dog. It is the love and its expression that matters.

The questions we all should ask ourselves are all there if you look beyond the frenetic activity and the pithy memorable lines you want to hold on forever. Mac wonders, “To love and lose is loving after all,” and the sunflower (Marilee Talkington) reminds us that flowers are found in human suffering. Mac has personified the garden and we see the tulip, the lilac the rose…all of them on stage captivating us even as they confuse us. By the fourth act, the lily has only one petal and far too big a dose of reality. Still, she is determined to become a man. Mac says, “Love is worth the sacrifice of beauty” and the audiences begins to understand that it is not at all. He adds, “The institution of marriage is so large I couldn’t possibly understand it” and we realize that no one does really fathom what it has become. In the final act, the pope (and in one performance this was me …. one of my most memorable experiences) shoots the cast and then insists it wasn’t his fault. Taylor Mac appears center stage and reminds us that indeed everyone should have their special day. “Certainly not a perfect one, but a special one.”

The truth is that anyone brave enough to truly listen to the what this lily’s fruitless adventure teaches us will have given himself a very special day indeed, one that he will not want to forget . Mac asks, “Don’t you want love?” and of course we all do…. But perhaps we look for it in all the wrong places and expect it to do far more than it was meant to do.

The Lily’s Revenge doesn’t give you answers…. But it encourages you to question what you thought was absolute and realize…well…. realize that the only rule you can count on is that in this life and this world there are no rules at all.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought.

The Lily’s Revenge continues until May 22 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, Building D, San Francisco. Tickets: 415 441 8822 or www.magictheatre.org.