Let me first introduce how I met this play: as an intern at the ART this summer, I read this play in June. My first thought was “thank goodness I have completed two years of dramatic history, otherwise I would be very lost.” This play is filled to the very brim with references to theatrical form, movements, people, styles, and any other tradition it can find. I combed through the play, found myself with almost too much to handle, and still couldn’t even believe how delightfully epic this play was. Next, I did that map that I’ve posted here, and created an entire toolkit on the play. I know this bugger well.
Opening snuck up on me, and by the grace of all of the gods, I was able to snag a comp for the one performance I could attend. The thing I couldn’t sneak was some one to attend the play with me. That was the first thing I discovered about the play in the experience of it: mention “5 hours” to any prospective theatre-goin’ friend and you’re going to be out of luck. It takes A LOT of convincing to even get people interested in the show (which is completely ridiculous, because it is just that good.) So, I went to my first play alone. Some of my supervisors from my internship were there but they had dates. I was in it alone.
I sat down in a seat. I challenged myself to sit next to some one, and not just completely isolate myself. I knew the play. The play is about community. Despite knowing this, it took a lot for me to take that scooch in toward the guy on my left. He ended up moving and that didn’t do much for my self-esteem until the guy in front of me turned around and spoke to me. What. I was truly baffled. He was wearing a Boston Red Sox hat, drinking a beer, and by himself. He asked me where I went to school, I said BU. He said that he had graduated from there. I told him I was studying theatre, he said he’d never been to any of the BU plays. (Strike 1: attending a show in Cambridge but you never saw any of the shows during your undergraduate education? weird.) Then he asked me why I was there. I told him that I had kinda worked on the show this summer. He perked up: What do you mean? I started to explain that I was an intern and helped in the education department. I was strangely nervous. First time at a show by myself, and I was rushed into feeling like an adult that was getting hit on. You can understand. Then the show started and I didn’t get to finish. He was confused and we silently agreed that we would discuss it at intermission. I then spent the first ten minutes of the first act thinking about how I would be obligated to talk to this man at the other intermissions. I wouldn’t have a friend to hide behind or a group of theatre nerds to fend off all outsiders. Then, audience participation started to happen. Actors were running into the house, calling on audience members for dialogue, and so on. I was into it. Then, Taylor Mac (the guy behind the whole thang) called the Red-sox-capped-beer-drinking-smooth-talker up to the stage and asked him to sing. I was so embarrassed for him. I was laughing so hard and suddenly felt sympathy for this poor man with no reason to be at the theatre, except maybe to pick up girls like me. Then a microphone dropped down in front of his face and this man, sang and danced his little tail off. HE WAS AN ACTOR IN THE SHOW. I was baffled. I couldn’t believe that I, supposed expert on the play and theatre lover, had been tricked by an actor being in the audience before the show. He started singing a song about porn and masturbating and I suddenly felt objectified by the song, like those were those man’s true feelings and that he had only been inspired to sing that song because of his interaction with me. Needless to say, the play worked and I had been surprised by my experience.
I could go on to explain the various intermissions filled with meditation, massages, drinks, food, and dance parties or explain how effective I thought the acting was. But I think what truly struck me about this play was that it got a group of strangers in one place for five hours committed to LIVING in the world of the play–not just watching innocently from the sidelines. By the time Taylor Mac so gracefully delivered his final soap box moment of the play about the creation of COMMUNITY being the answer to all of our woes, we all couldn’t help but agree because we had just so happily experienced that taking place in real time. I had been surprised in that world and learned something new about myself–anything the actors said after that experience was gold to me, despite knowing the script so well.
The Lily’s Revenge is absolutely one of my favorite theatrical experiences I’ve EVER had. I watched an honest and captivating story unfold around, next to, in front of, behind, on top, underneath, and through me. I felt important to the world and that my opinion and level of commitment MATTERED to the actors. Shouldn’t every play seek to engage it’s audience in this way? We don’t need to suffocate audience members with big drag queen hugs, but we sure can invite them to play WITH us and talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable.
If and WHEN The Lily’s Revenge returns to a town near you, SEE IT. For the sake of theatre acting as the glue for community’s across the world, at least.