It was undoubtedly clear from the get-go: to see Taylor Mac live on stage, is to be placed in the hands of a master performer. Even before the actual beginning of Mac's TBA contribution, Comparison is Violence, or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook, his charisma and charm were on display as he escorted PICA Artistic Director Cathy Edwards onstage for the curtain speech. He smiled, told a joke about how he hated the deflating nature of curtain speeches, but then grounded the moment with a heartfelt thank you to Cathy and the organizers of TBA. The audience was already in awe of him and this brief moment was to set the tone for the rest of the evening. Throughout the performance Taylor Mac would bounce effortlessly from comedy, to seriousness, to belting out Bowie like it was nobody's business, all the while wrapping you around his glittery finger.
The premise behind Comparison is Violence, or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook, is essentially an autobiographical joke that Mac explained within the first few minutes of the show. Apparently there was a year or two in his career in which almost every journalist he either talked to or who reviewed his work compared him both to David Bowie (because of his love for glam) and to Tiny Tim (because of Mac's use of a ukulele). Finding this both offensive and hilarious Mac then decided to create a piece that would not only embrace these assumptions, but by doing so, show how we as a thinking society use comparisons to lazily judge and degrade one another. A poignant point to make, one that Mac calls back to throughout the night while dissecting personal anecdotes and discussing theater history, but one that I thought was ultimately diminished by the format of the evening; that being cabaret. Now I don't have anything against cabaret, I think it an authentic take on performance, and one (as Mac points out) that has been around for ages, but for Mac's purposes it felt as though cabaret created too casual of an atmosphere to say anything of real gravity. There were many moments in which Mac would posit a heartfelt issue or topic, but then immediately follow it up with off-the-cuff antics or musical numbers that didn't necessarily connect to the thread he wanted us to grab onto.
I was discussing with a friend also in attendance about how we wished there had been something in the piece that broke from its format. Maybe something theatrical, or stylized, something planned that would drive home the theme Mac wanted us to feel. This never happened though, and I left the Washington High School auditorium feeling like something was missing.
Now this isn't to say that Comparison is Violence, or The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook is a waste of time, money, or energy. It was very entertaining, and as I mentioned before, Taylor Mac is a masterful performer, that in and of itself is worth the price of admission. You'll laugh, you'll ponder, you'll be moved at times. But not necessarily moved to action or to think too differently about something. Which is what we want out of great art right?