By ANTOINETTE MARTIN
For Montclair Local
“This is such a Montclair night,” sighed a female filmmaker in a front-row seat as Taylor Mac’s spectacularly uncategorized, profound and profoundly entertaining show got underway Friday, May 4, at the Wellmont Theater.
She certainly had it right.
Taylor Mac, a New York-based performance artist, actor, singer-songwriter, director/producer and MacArthur “Genius” grant winner, brought his mashup of music and history – dressed in glittery drag – to a town that famously loves diversity, especially in the arts. Furthermore, “resistance” in the era of Trump, which Taylor Mac declared the theme of the evening, was predestined to be received with wild enthusiasm in a true-“blue” town like Montclair.
Clad in bedazzling sequins and baubles, the performer clutched the crowd in his manly, manicured hands – sometimes literally, after forays into the seats to bring random audience members onstage – and cheer led them away from apathy, and toward empathy.
“Empathy and connectedness,” Montclair Film Festival’s executive director Tom Hall reminded attendees at each event and film, were the underlying messages of the community film festival’s 10-day run.
Taylor Mac presented an abridged version of his “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” delivering affecting versions of everything from a colonial-era marching song (“When Johnny Comes Marching Home”), to a crooned version of Ted Nugent’s “Snakeskin Cowboys.” The performer commanded audience members to slow-dance with a person of their same gender to the latter tune – and press pelvises! – in order to “metaphorically murder” Nugent, whom Taylor Mac matter of factly described as a “fag-basher.”
Taylor Mac came on strong as a feminist, even as he changed from one phantasmagoric cabaret costume to the next right onstage, baring his masculine chest and hairy legs, and even as he led a band of strippers onstage for an old-time burlesque interlude. The strippers were mostly female, but their bodies were highly diverse – another message embodied in performance art.
Stage-and-screen star Patrick Wilson, who lives in Montclair, joined Taylor Mac in a surprise appearance. They sang a lovely, bracing “My Boy Bill,” a tune from the vintage musical “Carousel” (running in a Tony-nominated Broadway revival right now), deliciously working the irony in the line where Billy Bigelow wonders about his future child, “…what if he’s a girl?”
Donald Trump was another metaphorical murder victim at the Taylor Mac show. Mac drew the full-house Wellmont audience to its feet for the closing tune, Patti Smith’s “People Have the Power,” dedicating it to the urgent battle to “crush” the current political regime. With his rock-and-roll band cranking on all cylinders behind him, Taylor Mac belted out a killer version of the song, and the audience danced and shouted the lyrics, pumping fists, throughout the hall.