In stiletto heels and a layered lilac robe, with flowers in his hair and flowers on his beard, Socrates is dying rather leisurely, surrounded by his innovative tunics.
How long will kill him? Also, do we really need to know?
“Honestly,” the philosopher says in “The Hang,” Taylor Mac and Matt Ray’s new opera, is actually more of a grand jazz performance minus the stereotypes, “there is something It’s annoying to get involved in a mystery when you have all the pertinent information. ”
That, right there, is the nucleus of Socratic wisdom to keep in your heart like a mantra as you surrender to the glitz and glamor of the mystery of “The Cave,” a show where you don’t have all the right information – not before, not as you are going through, maybe not even after. Narrative neatness is not one of its attributes.
With Mac (book and lyricist) playing the benevolent, morally thoughtful Socrates and sharing the spotlight with the rest of the large cast and eight-member band led by Ray (the songwriter), this show is intentional about amoebic form: an anti-structural act from the team that created the Mac’s masterpiece of superstructure,”A 24 Decade History of Popular Music. “It’s also very, very downtown, and very portable if that’s what the theater offers you: an intimate space, a huge amount of talent, a bunch of eye-catching designs, all in service. for a piece of art that has nothing to do with the mainstream.
After two years of the pandemic still making live performance a precarious business, “The Hang” feels like a celebration of the theater itself – a union for collaboration and companionship, for The overflowing beauty and the blending needed to come together.
Directed by Niegel Smith at Here in Manhattan, this is not a role-playing work; There was no audience participation, and the actors kept their distance. However, simply stepping into the performance space, where curtained walls surround us and hand-painted cushions in various patterns, you will feel immersed – and as soon as the music started, well received. The sound of a live band wraps around you in a way that music simply doesn’t unless you’re in the same room as the musicians.
“The Hang” – could hardly be different from Tim Blake Nelson’s argumentative play”Socrates,” Seen at the Public Theater in 2019 – outlines the details of Socrates’ death sentence after being convicted on charges of perverting youth and refusing to worship state-recognized gods. But this is not a biological drama. It is a ritual of splendor and a celebration of the exotic.
So when Mac’s Socrates tells the story of his trial in the song “Smallest Court Day of the Year,” he sings it in the style of Noël Coward, all with comedy (sample rhyme: “more gayer than gayer.” Sparta or tartans without shorts”) until it settles down to the ache in the soul of this show.
As for “The Hang,” Socrates’ accusation of corruption is about having sex with young men, not about teaching them radical ideas. It backs him up for that, and because he refuses to bow to orthodoxy, he insists on being himself no matter what.
Personality is the obvious way of this show, and the funniest moments are about the virtues the different actors bring to a performance that often feels like a bond between friends – though though friends are exceptionally artistic, like Kat Edmonson and Synead Cidney Nichols with their beautiful courtship, and Wesley Garlington with the most flirtatious whistling solo you’ll ever hear.
We do not learn the names of the acolytes of Socrates; there’s too much going on for that. But each set is beautifully made-up by Machine Dazzle, longtime Mac collaborator who also designed the set. Dressed in a toad beanie and a dress embellished with Medusas, El Beh has one of the most striking looks – although the horns of the orange ram on Trebien Pollard are quite something. Bold, bright makeup is by Anastasia Durasova. Also needed for the festive and mourning atmosphere: choreography by Chanon Judson and lighting by Kate McGee.
At some point in “The Cave,” I realized my mind had drifted to another Mac production, the Broadway comedy “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” in which Nathan Lane played the role. Gary, a clown in ancient Rome who wants to heal the evils of a violent world by turning its casualties into performers in an over-the-top spectacle.
As Mac sat on the edge of the stage in “The Hang,” watching the other actors do their work, I caught myself imagining Gary sitting nearby, also watching, and there was an explosion. “The Hang” isn’t the kind of world-changing person Gary dreams of, and he’s not trying to be. But it was a pleasure.
“The Hang” is a show that speaks to the restlessness and longing of the moment, while providing comfort in sensual pleasure. In a time of loneliness and anxiety, it expands and embodies one of theater’s greatest virtues – communion.
Through February 20 in Here, Manhattan; here.org. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/23/theater/the-hang-review.html Taylor Mac Enfolds Everyone in “The Cave,” an Active Opportunity for Communion.