Coney Island burlesque with Taylor Mac and friends
Taylor’s Mac’s aquatic lollapalooza “Red Tide Blooming” features mermaids, a hermaphrodite, angels, sea cows, blowfish, and a glowworm. And those are just the sea creatures. There is also a hag with gigantic breasts that speak, a handsome weatherman, shirtless with a tie and in short pants—who declares the apocalypse—and various other flora and fauna. The piece is set in Coney Island and there is a mermaid parade like ones the island is famous for.
This whimsical farrago has something to do with “freaks” versus “The Cool Kids” and though it isn’t set in a schoolyard, its sensibility is firmly rooted in the rejection that some kids experience as teenagers. There are those who consider themselves unpopular—hence freaks—and those who consider themselves part of the collective conscious, not to be mistaken for the collective unconscious, The Cool Kids. We do get one funny definition of a cool kid—“Drag Queen in basement bar is a freak. Drag queen in park goes on TV, no longer freak, now cool kid.” The show could have used a few more lines like that.
The collective conscious is gentrifying Coney Island and the freaks are being squeezed out. Some of the freaks are disloyal. The Blowfish has a meeting with a mysterious corporate entity who has promised him a film and some merchandising opportunities. The play is meant to be subversive, of course, and all corporate names are bleeped out. The Blowfish comes to a deadly end—his balloons are popped. And the rest of the cast doesn’t shed a tear.
I suppose this piece would like to consider itself a satire. Lynn Cheney shows up having been expelled from the collective conscious for writing a lesbian romance novel and exchanging forlorn looks at Saddam Hussein during his execution. She wanders around the stage in a pink bra and slip taking notes. She sings “an epic song of self-destruction.” A second song blames Saddam Hussein’s murderous impulses on his being beaten as a child.
The collective conscious is under attack from some kind of red algae spewed from the sea and there is much talk of the apocalypse with the chief engine being the weather. In fact there are two countdowns to the apocalypse in a script that is nearly two hours long.
Taylor Mac who also stars and gets to take off his clothes during the proceedings—the better to underscore his exhibitionism—has written a cuckoo pastiche the best of which can be said is fairly original yet only barely watchable. Lots of the freaks are stripped at various moments and let me be kind in saying that they’re not all showing off their best assets. Mac himself is covered in green paint from bald head to foot.
The script is really all over the place and features sacrificial proceedings, the disembowelment of a puppet, and plenty of nudity. There’s much singing and dancing, both of them poorly staged, and featuring actors with a limited range. The art direction—fish and sea creatures on dangling screens—is uninspired and tacky. Basil Twist is the puppeteer and Julie Atlas Muz is the choreographer. Taylor Mac is at the center of the show as the hermaphrodite, Olokun, who is on a quest to find a community of freaks on a far-off place called the floating landfill.
The show’s action is muddy and frequent glances at the program are necessary to make sense of the action, which doesn’t apologize for its obtuseness—though the script, thoughtfully is provided the reviewers The cast is made up of oddities of the sea world, with some mysticism and fake mythology thrown in. The hermaphrodite is not genuine however and at the end of the play he pulls off his tuck and Mac begins to sing right to the audience. He must think he’s Charlie Chaplin.
“Red Tide Blooming” is the first production created under the auspices of Performance Space 122’s Ethyl Eichelberger Award. The Award is a commissioning award given to an artist or group that exemplifies Eichelberger’s larger than life style. It misses his humor however.