Gender-bending theater artist Taylor Mac goes B’way
Taylor Mac is used to being on the fringe of entertainment. Even though he’s one of the best regarded performance artists in the biz — cabaret singer, composer, playwright, actor and gender-bending diva — his name might not be familiar to most people.
So how, exactly, did he end up doing a two-man show with Tony- and Emmy-winning star Mandy Patinkin with more Broadway firepower behind it than an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical? Even Mac isn’t quite sure.
“I asked that, too,” he laughs.
As it turns out, it’s not all that far-fetched. It all began a few years ago when a mutual friend of Mac and Patinkin asked them both to do a benefit show for her. Patinkin agreed … but only on the condition he be allowed to do a piece with Taylor Mac, even though the two had never met. Mac agreed. “We had a great time and the show we did was extraordinary. So we decided we needed to make another show,” Mac says.
The result? The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville, which the two co-wrote and perform together in a world premiere presentation at the Eisemann Center this week. A wordless pantomime about the last two members of humanity, they communicate entirely through song and movement. The director/ choreographer is Tony-winner Susan Stroman (The Producers), and everyone from the lighting designer (Ken Billington) to the costumer (William Ivey Long) to the music director (Paul Ford) are legends in their field.
“From my end, it’s great to work with Mandy and Stro, and Paul Ford has worked on some of the great shows. It’s a top-notch little team,” Mac says modestly.
How Patinkin came up with this edgy performance piece might puzzle some, but as Mac learned, there’s more to the actor than Homeland, Evita and Yentl.
“People think of him as this mainstream star, but Mandy’s been around!” Mac says. “I suggested he and I do a production of The Maids [Jean Genet’s creepy classic of sado-masochism]. I was making a joke — I thought never in a million years would he say yes. And he said, ‘Oh! I already did that with William Hurt!”
This piece represents a middle-ground for Patinkin and Mac’s core audiences. “I come from the more traditional background of theater-making — the world that Mandy has become popular in. But it’s something that I haven’t done for a good 10 years if not more, and certainly not for what I’ve been known for. It’s great to indulge it.”
Last Two People features numbers from the Great American Songbook as well as newest classics from the current century. Still, it’s a far cry from what Mac’s fans have come to expect — for one reason, he’s not wearing his signature clown makeup.
“Anyone who saw the show I did at the Undermain a few years ago won’t even recognize me,” he admits. “I’m wearing a very old-school vaudeville costume. Much more recognizable for what it is — but slightly modern.” Nevertheless, Mac’s heart comes through in this show as well.
“I always say I’m not a teacher, I’m a reminder. Most of the audience has a better education than I do, but people who are really smart and those who aren’t need to be reminded of things — what we have buried or people have buried for us about our humanity? I think that’s what Mandy and I are doing — we’re just trying to say,
‘Remember when people were different?’”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 13, 2015.