Taylor Mac’s drag show raises thorny questions to which we will perhaps never know the answers. Among them: How does he get the glitter to stay on his nipples? Where does one learn to play the ukulele? How many rubber gloves did it take to make that dress? In the main theater section of what is apparently the all-drag-all-the-time set at Here Arts Center (Joey Arias is playing downstairs), “The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac” offers some slight, occasionally funny musings that don’t quite approach his promising one-act “Okay,” seen at Ensemble Studio Theater earlier this year. But he’s certainly a sight to behold.
It’s not just the nipples and it’s not just the dress (which Mac calls “The War on Terror” — many of his outfits, for which no costumer is credited, are quite highbrow). Mac also has several appallingly manky wigs and a glammy makeup job that stays, miraculously, pretty solid over the course of the evening. His diving-board lashes and mask-like eyeliner make his blanched face nearly all eye, except for the mouth — bright, glittery red lipstick that’s also running down his chin, as if he’s been drinking David Bowie’s blood.
Mac starts the evening off right, threatening to force audience members to wear one of his outfits if they bug him during the show (in his defense, it sounds like Mac is used to a much rowdier crowd — one of his anecdotes is about a fellow dragster shot in the backside by some ne’er-do-wells).
This sounds like pretty innocuous punishment — who cares about wearing a tacky blouse for a few minutes? — until Mac opens his giant suitcase and dumps it unceremoniously onto the floor. Mac has stated before this that he has never washed a single article of clothing used in the show, and we now believe him. When the fluorescent mylar boas rain down, the audience is suddenly and inescapably aware of the power of the theater. Truly, no other medium smells quite like the stage.
Leaving the olfactory entertainment aside, Mac also has some shocks to offer the other senses, many of them more pleasant. His ukulele chops are considerable and several of the songs are very funny (notably opening number “Contingency Plan”). Then there’s the clothes themselves: a dress made out of plastic six-pack holders, various football shoulder pads that tell a story all by themselves, and a sort of sweater that comes with its own breasts, in a color Mac calls “tanorexic.”
“This is what happens when a tan person looks in the mirror and does not see a tan person,” he explains.
It feels a little churlish to deal with “The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac” on a dramaturgical level, since it certainly doesn’t demand that. But it has to be said that most of the evening is spent waiting for the show to begin. Mac gives the impression of a nice girl anxious to be the center of attention at a party, and it’s easy to indulge that right up until the end of the play — but not for very long afterward.
There’s a level of discipline Mac displayed even in the rambling “Okay” that’s missing here, and not because he can’t provide it. Hopefully, there’s more and better to come.