Taking in a Taylor Mac performance—and I say taking in because watching only covers a fraction of it — is as much about collective catharsis as it is about the humor, the banter, the costumes, and the music.
To call it a performance even feels insufficient—Holiday Sauce, showing at San Francisco's Curran through December 1st, is listed as an extravaganza and, yes, that pretty much sums it up.
While I expected to be attending a holiday-themed coda to Mac's 24-Decade History of Popular Music of last year, what I saw on opening night this past Friday was something else, but no less extraordinary than Mac's 24-hour epic.
It was also much briefer, running just over two hours.
Mac—whose stated preferred pronoun is "judy" but I'll ask him to forgive the use of "him" for our purposes (he identifies as a gay man)—is a performer first, a songwriter second, and a creator of carnivalesque experiences that transcend the idea of a simple drag show or cabaret performance. Holiday Sauce, like the earlier show, includes a troupe of locally cast Dandy Minions that, in this case, have played everyone from Baby Jesus to the angel Gabriel (both nude or almost nude, with requisite glitter), the Three Wise Men, and Sexual Consent Santa Claus (played by a butch lesbian). There's also an eight-piece band on stage.
The stars are, of course, Mac himself, and a pair of extraordinary costumes by designer Machine Dazzle, who himself makes an appearance as a lit-up Christmas tree.
After opening with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" ("It's from 1830," he quips, "and apparently there was a war on Christmas even back then," referring to the line "Remember Christ our savior was born on Christmas Day"), Mac breezes through several numbers that get increasingly more blasphemous. "O Holy Night" gets recast with some lewd hand gestures and double entendre. "Little Drummer Boy" gets brilliantly mashed up with "All Tomorrow's Parties" by The Velvet Underground. And he performs a "capitalism triptych" that opens with a rousing rendition of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," which Mac says "always seemed like a Christmas song to me."
Mac also delivers several original numbers, the most wrenching and wonderful of which is a song, accompanied just by his ukulele, about his three sets of terrible grandparents—two biological and one set of step-grandparents—all of whom made the holidays an annual misery. In their stead he adds an "elder chorus" of LGBTQ folks to his diverse cast, which is just one of multiple examples of how Mac seeks to recast, recalibrate, and redefine the holiday season for his own purposes.
The other, most central one is a tribute that Mac alludes to at the show's opening, which ultimately takes on greater pathos: Mac lost his drag mother Flawless Sabrina a year ago and says he conceived this holiday show in her honor.
And as Flawless inspired Mac to reach higher and be bolder in his work, so he inspires us. He pledges to make this show an annual thing, and to keep adding on to it over the years—to "dream the culture forward," as he put it in the last show. For now it is a delightful and bizarre holiday surprise that will leave everyone, and especially queer people, thankful to have their own conflicted experience of the season reflected back at them in a new and glorious morn.