Gilding the Lily

The A.R.T.'s production of Lily's Revenge
By CAROLYN CLAY  |  September 17, 2012

Fall-Theater-The-Lily's-Revenge-article

Princess Diana died in 1997, so that's when Taylor Mac began contemplating The Lily's Revenge, in which, complete with petals and pot, he portrays the titular blossom. "The inspiration," Mac says of the 2010 Obie-winning extravaganza, which American Repertory Theater brings to Oberon this fall, "was three funerals that happened. Princess Diana's was the first. And kind of close together were Pope John Paul and Ronald Reagan. And I was watching Ronald Reagan's, and all these flowers were being thrown on the White House lawn as they had been on Buckingham Palace, and the same thing with Pope John Paul. And the same day that I saw those flowers for Ronald Reagan, I also saw an Act Up documentary where people whose lovers had died of AIDS were trying to throw the corpses of their lovers' bodies onto the White House lawn because the White House was refusing to believe that AIDS even existed.

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And so there was this obvious juxtaposition between all these flowers being thrown for Ronald Reagan and these men who were just trying to be acknowledged. And so," he says, laughing, "that was the catalyst for this five-hour allegory."

Mac's 2009 theater piece, which the flamboyant author/performer developed over the course of a four-year residency at New York's HERE Arts Center, revolves around a flower that goes on a quest to become a man so that he can marry the bride he adores. Enacted by more than 30 performers and divided into five acts that encompass music, metaphor, multimedia, a cadre of haiku-spouting flora, a villainous personification of Nostalgia that takes the form of a talking stage curtain, and four intermissions' worth of whimsical diversions, the gaudy spectacle was also inspired by Noh drama and (despite all those funerals) wedding etiquette.

"The Lily's Revenge," Mac explains, "has a lot to do with myths and traditions and how we use them to either foster community or tear community apart. So I started thinking, which myths and traditions, styles and genres, can I use to tell this story? One of the ones that I found that I thought was really helpful was the Japanese Noh theater. They would do five Noh plays, which are about an hour in length, all in one day. And each play would have its own theme. So I decided to do, like, a festival of Noh plays but with one story going all the way through instead of five distinct stories. And that was primarily because I wanted it to mirror the length of a wedding and to have a lot of the elements a wedding has. So when you go to a wedding, usually you're there for about four and a half, five hours. You're asked to be a silent observer. You're asked to participate. You eat food, you dance, you hear people speak poetry. There's heightened language. You meet people you've never met before; you come with people you know. It's a kind of community-fostering event, and that's what I wanted The Lily's Revenge to be."

Though plenty of party-going spectator-participants have assumed the show to be about gay marriage, Mac demurs. "I try not to get too heavy-handed about that," he says, "because the play isn't actually about gay marriage. It's about the way America worked in the 1950s and whether that is really going to serve us in this day and age." Hey, will someone please buy Paul Ryan a ticket?

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