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  • Jonathan Kalb

Pandemonium Magic

Taylor Mac is one of those magi of pandemonium who knows how to breach the defenses of people like me who don’t surrender easily to orgiastic theatricality. There’s something about Mac’s particular sort of resplendently queer excess and gallimaufry of progressive ideas that’s so joyful, sincere and essentially intelligent that it makes you throw up your hands, turn off your inner Aristotle, and enjoy the chaotic ride.

The Hang is classic Mac—an utterly uncategorizable mélange of Aristophanic comedy, American musical, drag show, cabaret, jazz concert, song recital and philosophical symposium that you can’t help loving, no matter what you might make of its thought. It’s brash, bawdy, hilarious (alternately dumb and satirical) and infectiously sweet-tempered, with over 100 minutes of extremely catchy music by Matt Ray, a fantastic 8-piece band, a 9-member cast of crack dancers and singers, and jaw-dropping sculptural costumes by Machine Dazzle.

This is what Mac does best—write and star in a saturnalian communal gathering that can double as a think-piece if you want it to, like A 24-Decade History of Popular Music and The Lily’s Revenge. And IMO, the magic in these shows is immensely more powerful than the scripted plays Mac writes (such as Gary and Hir, which also tend to be produced by others with a formality that saps their magic further).

Directed by Niegel Smith (who co-directed A 24-Decade History) The Hang is framed as an alternative Apology of Socrates, Plato’s account of his mentor’s trial for corrupting the youth of Athens. Mac plays Socrates as a fabulous, floral-bearded, gnomic figure in a flower-petal wig and fluorescent chartreuse eye-shadow. Having already taken the mandated hemlock at the beginning, he invites his acolytes to a group-schmooze called a “hang” while he waits for death. They all oblige, of course—except for Plato, played by Ryan Chittaphong as a toga-clad stick-in-the-mud who takes down everything on a cardboard typewriter. Socrates compares him to the guy at a dinner party who won’t stop looking at his cell phone.

Meanwhile the sung-through book and songs range digressively across dozens of subjects such as the meaning of art, the relationship of beauty to morality, whether Aristophanes was political, the absurdity of a protest against consumerism in the Gay Pride Parade by demonstrators wearing corporate black clothing, and much, much more. If I had to list my favorite sequences (no easy task) I’d mention: a killer baritone sax solo that arises out of nowhere; a riotous tap dance by a man wearing high-top Converse All-Stars, day-glo orange satyr horns and little else; and a marvelous “debate” that a trombone player conducts with himself, stepping from left to right while playing melodic passages “at odds” with one another and guiding our impressions with comic facial expressions.

While it’s true that the entire extended run of The Hang through March 6 is sold out, I can report that 3 people waiting for returned tickets got in the day I attended. Part of me wants to clamor for a commercial producer to pick up this beautiful show which, judged purely on its own qualities, I think could run forever. Another part, though, fears that a transplant might kill the organism by separating it from the warm, laid-back, intimate soil it grew up in at HERE. The solution, no doubt, is for Mac to write some new lyrics about that dilemma and add them to the show

Book and Lyrics by Taylor Mac Music and Music Direction by Matt Ray Directed by Niegel Smith


145 Sixth Ave.

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