by Brittany Crowell
Who was Socrates? The historians don’t even know. Socrates wrote none of his own work, but his story is told through accounts by others (namely his students, Plato and Xenophon). Taylor Mac joins their ranks and embraces the unknown in judy’s [Mac’s preferred pronoun] newest romp at HERE, where Mac wonders on Socrates and his teachings in a 100-minute song and dance.
The Hang is part poetry, part jazz, part drag-show, and all party. A series of songs musing on the fever dream of the final hours of Socrates’ life, the poison imbibed after his trial seems (through Mac’s interpretation) to procure color, myth, and legend, conjured by the extravagant costumes and scenic design of Machine Dazzle.
The strong ensemble of the piece is garbed in some combination of lace, yarn, flowers, tulle, and harness. Many also emulate fantastical creatures through extensive drag-styled makeup and accessories such as ram’s horns, toadstool-covered hats, and skirts adorned with a variety of Medusa heads. The aesthetic of the space and costume both recall ancient Greece, but with a hint of turn-of-the-century salon and modern-day drag show.
The musicians, led by Matt Ray (music and music direction) are deeply integrated into the piece. Using their instruments as tools of philosophic conversation, they enter into a Socratic dialogue with the ensemble, responding to singing, dancing, and music-making with incredible jazzy riffs. Sitting front row and being a part of the song-and-dance, I often forgot exactly where I was and became so overwhelmed by the music that it felt like attending an intimate west village jazz concert (with heavily make-up’ed Greek qweens as hosts!).
The cast is each given a moment to shine in this ensemble-driven piece: from flirting coyly as a fabulous gadfly (Wesley Garlington), to taking turns riffing on the saxophone beat (performers Synead Cidney Nichols and Kat Edmonson with Jessica Lurie on sax), to singing a love song on a toilet (Queen Esther), each cast member was uniquely specific in character and incredibly fun to watch inhabit take center stage.
The “Socratic problem” with the piece is mostly mired in the Socratic problem itself: who was Socrates and how can we understand him and his ideas without hearing from the man himself? Leaving the theater I found myself musing on rhythms and ideas, but without solid foundation in history or narrative. This led to some extensive googling on Socrates himself and an increased appreciation for the tie-ins that the piece itself made between Socratic theory, dialogue, music, and modern day. Rather, The Hang is much more of a musing on the theories of Socrates and an emulation of the world that he believed in than a lesson in the man himself; a fever dream come to life, if you will, and one that is a total blast to live in for 100 minutes.
THE HANG – book and lyrics by Taylor Mac; music and music direction by Matt Ray
Directed by Niegel Smith; choreographed by Chanon Judson
Performers: Taylor Mac; Kenneth Ard; El Beh; Ryan Chittaphong; Kat Edmonson; Queen Esther; Wesley Garlington; Synead Cidney Nichols; and Trebian Pollard.
Musicians: Matt Ray; Jonathan Beshay; Greg Glassman; J. Walter Hawkes; Jessica Lurie; Joel Mateo; Lisa Parrott; and Gary Wang.
Scenic and costumes by Machine Dazzle; Lighting by Kate McGee; sound by Cricket S. Myers; makeup by Anastasia. Durasova; dramaturgy by Morgan Jenness. Presented by HERE: Kristin Marting, founding artistic director; Meredith Lynsey Schade, producing director; Brenna C. Thomas, director of external affairs. Running through March 5. 145 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10013. here.org/shows/the-hang.