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Preview: The Lily's Revenge 

Brad Rhines on the ambitious, site-specific tour de force by Southern Rep

click to enlarge PHOTO BY RIDE HAMILTON

There's nothing subtle about The Lily's Revenge. The brash, colorful and unorthodox drama follows a flower's quest to marry the woman he loves. It's an epic story of desire and transformation involving more than 40 actors, dancers and musicians in the fanciful setting of the Den of Muses. The story unfolds over five acts and three interactive intermissions, lasts more than five hours and is one of the most challenging and lavishly indulgent shows produced by Southern Rep and several other collaborating theater companies.

  "This is a hedonistic tale that is not for the faint of the heart," says Southern Rep artistic director Aimee Hayes. "It has strong language, it has sexual content, it is not afraid to go everywhere and anywhere."

  New York fringe theatre artist Taylor Mac created the piece, and its 2009 off-Broadway debut drew critical acclaim. Mac also starred as Lily, the flower whose desire to marry a woman defies traditional notions of love and romance. The plot unspools like a hallucinatory vision as Lily struggles with obstacles and characters dubbed The Great Longing, Incurable Disease and Dirt and a host of dancing flowers. Intended as an allegory about opposition to same-sex marriage, the play confronts repressive cultural attitudes and celebrates individuals who challenge outdated ways of thinking.

  Hayes worked with Mac in New York and has spent three years working to bring The Lily's Revenge to New Orleans. This is the first production without Mac's direct involvement, but it doesn't lack for contributing artists. The spectacle of The Lily's Revenge relies on a diverse group of artists and theater companies. Each of the five acts has a different director and includes players from different backgrounds. The result is a collaboration between the senior theater producer Southern Rep, younger companies including Cripple Creek Theatre Company and Skin Horse Theater, film and alternative theater group Mondo Bizarro and individual contributors Jeffrey Gunshol, a dance professor at Tulane University, and bounce artist Vockah Redu.

  "To really make the play, which is about love and weddings and heroes and who do you love, and why do you love the people you love, it needed to be of a community," Hayes says.

  Lily is played by Evan Spigelman, artistic director for Skin Horse Theater and the star of its 2011 production of the queer rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, another flamboyant theater piece that began on the fringes of New York's theater scene.

  "I think one of the exciting things about this is that you could come with no knowledge of what's going on in theater in New Orleans and get a huge sampling of the enormous talent that's bubbling up right now," Spigelman says.

  Nick Slie, who played the lead in the collaborative work Loup Garou and is one of the co-founders of performance group Mondo Bizarro, says Lily is like nothing he has ever done before. Slie directed the film that serves as Lily's fourth act. To retain a theatrical element within the cinematic interlude, he shot the film in a single take as the actors performed in front of a scrolling hand-painted backdrop.

  While Lily brings much talent to bear, the five-hour duration lays down a gauntlet for the audience. The production is designed to keep audiences engaged by blending genres and incorporating music, verse, ballet, bounce music and interactive elements. Skin Horse Theater collaborated with artist and performer Nari Tomassetti on installations designed to engage audience members during intermissions, and the pieces include "The Barbie Porno Tent" and "Story Holes: The Glory Hole for Your Ears." Costumed male and female cigarette girl-style vendors offer food and drinks. The Den of Muses actually houses the floats of the raunchy and satirical Krewe du Vieux, and the play's direction makes the most of the environment by having spectators move to different locations for each act. By invoking the subversive spirit of Mardi Gras, the directors hope to seduce audience members into feeling they are part of the grand spectacle.

  "You set it up as an event, you put it in the Den of Muses, and you cast really interesting people," Slie says. "I've got a lot of faith in those kinds of choices."

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