For fans of Taylor Mac, the mere mention of the name is enough to summon up feelings of delight.
A playwright, an actor, a singer-songwriter, a performance artist, a director and a producer, Mac is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow and is the author of seventeen full-length works of theater. His ambitious 24-hour extravaganza, “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” debuted in Brooklyn in 2016, winning the Edward M. Kennedy Award for Drama inspired by American History and becoming a Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama; it made The New York “Best of 2016” lists in three categories – Performance, Theater and Classical Music – and has been performed in parts and in its entirety all over the world including Melbourne, London, San Francisco, Philadelphia and, of course, Los Angeles. Its 2017 production here, split up into four separate six-hour performances, was one of the city’s artistic highlights of the year.
Now, courtesy of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA), Mac is back with “Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce,” which will take the stage at Royce Hall for a two-night engagement on Friday, Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Joined by longtime collaborators – set and costume designer Machine Dazzle, music director Matthew Dean Marsh and a band of musicians and special guests – Mac celebrates the holidays in all their glorious dysfunction with unique renditions of the songs we love and the holidays we hate.
For those unfamiliar, Mac is a queer performer, winner of the 2017 “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and one of the world’s leading theater artists, whose work that has been described as a fight against conformity and categorization.
“My job as a theatrical artist,” Mac told The Paris Review, “is to remind people of the things they’ve forgotten, dismissed or buried, or that other people have buried for them.”
Mac has pushed back against the gender-binary construct by adopting the use of “judy” (lowercase) – not as a name, but as a gender pronoun – because (in judy’s words) “I chose ‘judy’ because I kinda feel like I wanted a gender pronoun that would immediately make them camp. You can’t roll your eyes and say ‘judy’ and not emasculate yourself.”
Called by New York Magazine a “critical darling of the New York scene,” judy’s work has been performed in hundreds of venues including New York City’s Town Hall, Lincoln Center, The Public Theatre and Playwrights’ Horizons, to name just a few. Worldwide productions have been mounted as well – at London’s Hackney Empire and Barbican, Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, LA’s Ace Theater (through UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance), Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, the Sydney Opera House, The Melbourne Forum Theater, Stockholm’s Sodra Theatern, the Spoleto Festival, and San Francisco’s Curran Theater and SF MoMA.
Mac is the author of many works of theater in addition to “History of Popular Music,” – including “Hir, “The Walk Across America for Mother Earth,” “Comparison is Violence,” The Lily’s Revenge, “The Young Ladies Of,” “The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac,” “Cardiac Arrest or Venus on a Half-Clam,” “The Face of Liberalism” and “The Hot Month.” In addition, judy has two soon-to-be produced plays in the works, “Prosperous Fools,” and “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.” The latter will debut on Broadway next spring, with Nathan Lane and Andrea Martin in the starring roles.
Sometimes judy acts in other people’s plays, most notably as Shen Teh/Shui Ta in The Foundry Theater’s production of “Good Person of Szechwan” at La Mama and the Public Theater, as Puck/Egeus in the Classic Stage Company’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” and in the two-man vaudeville, “The Last Two People on Earth” opposite Mandy Patinkin and directed by Susan Stroman.
Mac’s shows draw inspiration from theatrical history reaching all the way back to the era of ancient Greece – judy cites Charles Ludlam and the Theater of the Ridiculous as particular influences – but they are anything but musty museum pieces. Combining forms such as commedia dell’arte, contemporary musical theater, and drag performance, they can better be described as entertainment with an edge. As Mac’s longtime musical director Matt Ray puts it, “It’s flamboyance with a purpose.”
It’s the entertainment factor that has allowed Mac to cross over into the mainstream – for example, in the days leading up to last month’s midterm elections, judy appeared on “Late Night With Stephen Colbert,” performing a cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power.”
In an interview with KQED ahead of the recent San Francisco run of “Holiday Sauce,” Mac said that judy didn’t have a lot of “joyous memories” around the season growing up gay in Stockton, because “homophobia, hard-line Christianity, and consumerism” were “hard to swallow.”
So judy created the new show as an “antidote” which “practices survival techniques” for the holidays.
It’s a wild ride that reframes familiar holiday traditions through the lens of Mac’s subversive politics, reworks popular carols to reflect the cultural climate and lampoons seasonal rituals to expose them as hollow clichés. It aims to “deconstruct the patriarchy of spirituality,” but it also encourages audiences to build a new, more personal holiday experience in a more progressive, inclusive form.
It may sound like heavy going, but with Mac in the center of it all, it’s sure to be fun.
“Holiday Sauce” is presented by CAP UCLA and produced by Pomegranate Arts (Executive Producer, Linda Brumbach; Associate Producer, Alisa Regas) along with Mac’s company, Nature’s Darlings. Tickets for $29– $119 are available now at cap.ucla.edu, via Ticketmaster, by phone 310-825-2101 and at the UCLA Central Ticket Office.