The Lily's Revenge started with a joke about its five-hour duration. Time, or Stepmother Time (Emilie Whelan), with her head peering out of the window of a birdcage that made her look like a giant cuckoo clock, said in a deep and emphatically slow voice, "This is a long play."
But five hours later when the climactic scene burst into an orgy of chaos, characters on stage openly joked about ways to draw out the ending, and I was game for just about anything they wanted to try.
New York playwright Taylor Mac's opus is explicitly gratuitous, in spirit as well as size, with more than 40 actors, raunchy humor, some nudity, a live band, a team of directors, different seating arrangements and stages for each of the five acts and interactive intermissions. It's an incredible challenge to make such a busy and flamboyant scheme work, and the collaboration of directors — spearheaded by Southern Rep and including Andrew Vaught, Pamela Davis-Noland, Jeffrey Gunshol, Nick Slie and Aimee Hayes — took an inspired approach that made Lily wonderfully dramatic, funny and poignant. The Den of Muses with its Mardi Gras floats and props was a perfect setting for the event.
The play invokes, toys with and defies conventions, especially those relating to theater and weddings. In the opening scene, a potted plant, Lily (Evan Spigelman) sits in a front row seat. He wants to see a play, and he quickly hops on stage and becomes part of it. The master of the theater, The Great Longing (Todd D'Amour), who appears as a talking red velvet curtain, discourages him and commands other players not to look at or talk to the audience. The Great Longing's mother is Time, and they have a philosophical difference about what theater should be. She prefers to live in the moment, embrace what is real and celebrate ephemeral things — such as a flower. The Great Longing revels in luring audiences with conventional stories, falling back on traditional roles and appealing to sentimentality, especially via a play that ends with a wedding.
A bride appears first as a puppet and then in the flesh, and Lily professes his love for her. Bride Deity (Pandora Gastelum) has great hopes for her "perfect day," but her expectations of fulfillment rest on ritual and delusion, or narrative, or contrivance, like a play with a happy ending. Lily bids to marry her, and she likes that he is more passionate than her groom (Ian Hoch), but Lily is a flower. Bride Deity says if he can become a man in four hours, then she will marry him.
The Lily's quest to become a man takes him to Act 2's Garden of Earthly Delights, where he meets other fauna who have their own vision of the life of a flower and the contrivances of weddings, especially the bouquet. The flowers send Lily on a journey that will suit his attempt at transformation and also help liberate them.
The first and final acts were very strong, and also the most theatrically conventional. The Garden incorporated dance and poetry, and the surreal third act delved into the dreams and nightmares of the betrothed. Those visions created an alter ego bride and groom who became part of the wedding. It also relied heavily on dance and featured one of the most visually stunning scenes as The Great Longing was stripped (literally) of his power before regaining it and reviving the promise of wedded bliss.
Act 4 featured a song from Incurable Disease (Thugsy Da Clown), who also would be a guest at the wedding, and a mostly silent movie account of the Lily's journey.
The climactic nuptial scene included most of the ensemble, and its wildly indulgent resolution was an effort to both subvert and restore marriage as an institution. There is no reception, but Mac's play tries to have its wedding cake and eat it too.
Throughout the work, there were many fine performances and contributions, including the live band, costumes and many of the sets. Among the notable performers were Spigelman (Lily), Whelan (Stepmother Time), D'Amour (The Incredible Longing), Gastelum (Bride Deity), Hoch (Groom Deity) and Sherri Marina (Master Sunflower). Samantha Beaulieu and Stylist B gave Tulip and Poppy, respectively, hilariously sharp edges. A couple of brief lulls and a technical glitch barely registered and ultimately the project rose to a brilliant full bloom, even if only for a short run. — Will Coviello