American History as Sung by Taylor Mac
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Published in: September-October 2023 issue.

Ritual, Realness and Radical Performance
Edited by David Román and Sean F. Edgecomb
Univ. of Michigan. 320 pages, $39.95

TAYLOR MAC is a boundary-breaking theater artist whose creativity and accomplishments defy categorization. In a career spanning 25 years to date, the actor, playwright, performance artist, director, producer, and singer-songwriter has racked up a slew of awards and nominations in their many fields of endeavor. Their work has attracted the attention of numerous scholars and writers, whose critical essays on Mac have been collected by David Román and Sean F. Edgecomb in the aptly titled The Taylor Mac Book.

            Following a general introduction to Mac’s work are essays that examine several of their plays, including The Lily’s Revenge, Hir (pronounced “here”), Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, and The Walk Across America for Mother Earth. However, the editors have chosen to focus chiefly on Mac’s most ambitious and successful project to date, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which is discussed in five essays by separate critics. A monumental undertaking that took years of research, planning, and collaboration, this work—which was short-listed for a Pulitzer in Drama, though it is variously described as performance art, a concert, or a play—is an alternative history of the United States using 246 songs from dozens of genres as tools for enacting cultural shifts and marginalized narratives from 1776 to 2016. Each decade in the performance is intended to be “organized around the idea of showing how various communities, ‘built themselves as a result of being torn apart.’”

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Thomas Keith has written for American Theatre about Everett Quinton, La MaMa E.T.C., and Tennessee Williams.