Off-Off-Broadway Review: THE HANG (Taylor Mac at HERE)

Post image for Off-Off-Broadway Review: THE HANG (Taylor Mac at HERE)

by Kevin Vavasseur on February 16, 2022

in Theater-New York


Taylor Mac is nothing if not creative. Perhaps oppressively so. Mac’s latest on-stage extravaganza is titled The Hang and is currently hanging out at HERE Arts Center in New York City. It offers such a clever torrent of color, music, intellect, dance, joy, design, queerness, ideas, comedy, thought, debate, observation and LIFE that it can feel overwhelming to take it all in. But take it all in one must. And not just intellectually. For this is a performance that demands one not just watch it but experience it — with all available senses. Or else one will really miss out. And that’s ok too. Because these multi-cultural citizens of Ancient Athens and their multi-talented musical accompaniment are going to hang out with you or without you.

El Beh
Kat Edmonson, Taylor Mac and El Beh

On the surface, Mac and Company have created a rumination on the life of Socrates and the vagaries of artistic creation, all housed within this onstage gathering in celebration of Socrates’ last night alive, hosted by Socrates himself (Taylor Mac, whose preferred pronoun is “judy”). Though ostensibly set in Ancient Athens, it is current society they are really exploring, with all the incongruous language and references to prove it. Primary among Socrates’ friends is a rather unctuous Plato, luxuriously played by Ryan Chittaphong. Plato is late to the party (of course) and comes bristling in with his ancient laptop, ready to be scribe to the party’s goings-on as well as punch holes in the loftier views on organized society, artistic commitment and creative output espoused by the others. Plato basically serves as a constant oppositional force or gadfly (a term raised to threatening significance in this show) to all the wondering which the other characters are doing. And though strident in his opposition, Plato is wondering himself. And that is primarily what Mac’s current creation is about: the act of wondering. And what does that wonderment do to the strictures around us? Is there an inherent threat to engaging with possibility? Is there joy to be found? Is it an offense justifiable of punishment? Even execution?

Jessica Lurie on baritone saxophone and Greg Glassman on trumpet
Kenneth Ard and THE HANG band

As Mac explains in the program bio (a must read for any theater person, btw):

“Once there was an acting teacher who said, ‘When your character is alone on stage their action is one of three things: praying, figuring out, or recalling’. Wise as that craft may be, how may we liberate this triumvirate into a truncation, which offers an expansion? Shall we turn our craft into a vagary of wondering? It may not be as accurate as praying, figuring out, and recalling but, perhaps, more aspirational. Whereas the method acting teacher is interested in showing how people are, some of us are interested in using theatre to (also?) explore our possibility. Or how do we become less knowing and more Socratic?”

Queen Esther and Kat Edmonson
Ryan Chittaphong and Queen Esther

As the evening progresses, “less knowing” would be an apt description of the trajectory the night follows. It becomes less about linear story and more about visceral experience and intellectual impression. As always, Mac has surrounded judyself with an awe-inspiring company of actor-singer-musicians. And Mac’s generosity as a performer is well displayed, as each performer is given ample space to shine individually and in relationship. There are too many thrilling moments to name but just a few: an incredible extended saxophone solo by Jessica Lurie; a satiny smooth ballad by Queen Esther (while seated on a toilet caressing toilet paper. Trust me, it works.); Wesley Garlington’s oh-so-queer turn as Socrates’ young lover; and a company-performed show-stopper about wondering itself.

Synead Cidney Nichols and Kat Edmonson
Taylor Mac and the Company

The permission to wonder also seems to have been given to all elements of the production from Niegel Smith’s precise yet fluid direction, Chanon Judson’s structured yet surprising choreography and Machine Dazzle’s bulky yet flattering costumes. Which are not really costumes as much as individual works of art. The costuming is so specific, colorful, functional and whimsical that it is a performance unto itself. The eight-piece band under Matt Ray’s expert musical direction provides a big, lush sound that belies their numbers. And these musicians are very accomplished in all the styles they are called on to perform, from jazz to fifties night club to musical comedy to rhythm & blues. Matt Ray also wrote the show’s music, which is as beautiful and enveloping in its sound as it is rigorous and solid in its composition.

Taylor Mac
The Company

And Taylor Mac is perfect as the Grande Dame Socrates of the night’s festivities. Having also written the clever and thoughtful book and lyrics of The Hang, Mac takes on a parental persona on this last night of Socrates life – fundamentally happy with all judys accomplishments but still determined to question and challenge to the very end. It’s charming to see Mac sitting on the sidelines while watching the others take their turns center-stage. Judy emanates such a sense of joy and pride in the watching – one has to wonder if judy is just acting or is this Taylor Mac’s actual feeling? I imagine it’s a little of both.

Trebian Pollard
Wesley Garlington

The Hang is certainly an evening worth hanging with so get down to HERE and join the party. And indulge your inner wonder. ‘Cause as presented by Mac and the talented ensemble, musicians and creative team it’s, well, wonderful.

Wesley Garlington, El Beh and Taylor Mac
Wesley Garlington, Kat Edmonson and Kenneth Ard

photos by Maria Baranova

The Hang
HERE, 145 Avenue of Americas
Wed — Sat at 8:30, Sun at 2:00
ends on March 6, 2022
for tickets (starting at $35), call 212-352-3101 or visit HERE

Leave a Comment