Bark of Millions:

A Parade of Trance Extravaganza for the Living Library of The Deviant Theme

Written by:
David E. Moreno
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“What we are trying to do with this show is explore some kind of queer spirituality without heterosexuality dictating what that is.” Taylor Mac
Bark of Millions is a nonbinary, nonlinear rock opera, gospel revival, an Italian opera in Beach Blanket Babylon glam, a fusion of the tribal musical Hair with the bling and stardust of Dream Girls. It invites you into a salon of Radical Faeries entertaining each other for the pleasure of it, clad in resplendent costumes by wizard genius Machine Dazzle. Welcome to a house party casually staged around a white cloudscape set with phallic, vulvic, and nipple-shaped cushions and soft sculptures.

Breezily, seductively, the multiracial, multi-body-sized cast wove an opera trance loosely framed with a beginning and a finale four hours later. Time doesn’t matter. It’s not about you. It’s about them, their history, their queerness, their right to exist, and in this sense, our queerness, acknowledged or not. The spectacle will touch your heart, make you grimace, and cause you to want more, even though sitting in a chair for all those hours is challenging.

Unlike previous Taylor Mac extravaganzas, Bark of Millions doesn’t include audience participation, making the time sitting more noticeable. But Radical Faeries are anarchists, and their disregard of linear time is their most subversive weapon. The piece could have easily been two, twelve, 24 hours, or a week long. It doesn’t matter. Spectacularly over or underdressed, the cast sings 55 songs celebrating queer trailblazers like Harry Hay, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Larry Kramer, plus mythological heroes like Sappho and Prosymnus, all while being fabulous… fabulously campy, soulful, and vulnerable in their transparent exposure of letting it all hang out.

Also unique to this performance is Mac’s sharing judy’s (pronoun and spelling of choice) auric spotlight with equally gifted and complementary talents. In true Radical Faeries’ fashion, Bark of Millions is an egalitarian performance with Mac sitting out for several numbers, resting on couches, leaning against others, or flat-out lying down. Mac’s generosity allows performers like Jack Fuller (James Baldwin, Justin Chin, Bayard Rustin, Leonardo Da Vinci…) to stop the show at several points with gripping vocal honesty, a deep-rooted four-octave range, and effortless theatricality. Likewise, rolling like a river, Steffanie Christían (Sappho and the Amazonians, Ladies of Llangollen, Prosymnus…) consumes the stage with a Tina Turner-like vigor and force dressed in Carnival/Amazonian drag singing Nzingha Mbande. She is also captivating in a luscious melodic duet with Mac in Ladies of Llangollen.

Even Machine Dazzle steals a dying swan moment with an aria from a balcony seat as he croons about Greta Garbo. “I wanna be alone, With you, The mystery of others, Is lovers.” And Le Gateau Chocolat’s (I kid you not) mournful flamenco-styled ballad, Reinaldo Arenas, passionately transported us to yet, another world in the Taylor Mac universe.

         Matt Ray’s ambitious compositions are all over the place, successfully covering many genres, including blues, opera, nightclub, gospel, rock, and pop, without an apparent arc or destination in mind. Of his hefty canon, Claude Cahun feels the least realized, coming off as a bridge or unnecessary filler as the cast meanders aimlessly around the stage in an incoherent free-for-all early in the program. Crystalizing his spirited compositions are sobering, sometimes mystical, often painful, with faint glimmers of hope lyrics written by Mac. A libretto that provokes more questions, arouses curiosity, artfully educates, and leaves us in the mystery of not knowing. Atum, the opening song chanted in the dark, is an exquisite ritualistic example of the invisible magic and enigma that holds the entire four hours together. “I make myself, Hidden in water, I make myself, Straying in darkness, I make myself, Hidden in water, I make myself, By uttering a name, Atum Temu Tem Ra…”
David e. Moreno

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