A holiday show that performing artist Taylor Mac first brought to the Curran in San Francisco two years ago, Holiday Sauce, is back in virtual form in a new pandemic edition that's perfect for cuddling up to with your hot toddy as you suffer this COVID Christmas.
Mac said he conceived the show in 2017 after saying to himself, "I’m going to use the holiday season to practice techniques for how to survive." (Mac says his preferred pronoun is "judy" but as he is a self-identified cis gay man, most critics have stuck with he/him.) And the live version at the Curran was, indeed, an exercise in how to subvert and reimagine the idea of a Christmas show, and Christmas music, for an LGBTQ and/or liberal-ally audience with a bawdy sense of humor. There was a recasting of "O Holy Night" involving some lewd hand gestures and emphasis on the word "divine." There was a story song, a Mac original, about visiting his various grandparents and step-grandparents' houses as a child and the horrors and degradation that those memories bring. And there was a lot of talk about one's chosen family, and one's chosen "grandparents," and one's chosen "mother Mary."
In Mac's case, it was his drag mother, Flawless Sabrina, who passed away in late 2017 not long before the world premiere of Holiday Sauce in New York. In the live show, a ten- or twelve-foot-high black-and-white portrait of Mother Flawless, as Mac calls her, was lowered down at the rear of the stage. And her spirit continues to animate the video version of the show that Mac presented first as a live stream on December 12, and is now watchable on demand with a $10 ticket (pay more if you can), through January 2.
The show opens with a monologue by Mac in some incredible, fruit-and-vegetable-themed makeup and an elaborate headpiece and dress by designer Machine Dazzle — who dazzled audiences with the 24+ outfits that Mac wore in the A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, which was performed in San Francisco in Septemer 2017.
"We have been working really hard, all year long, and you need to figure out how to take care of yourself right now," Mac says, addressing the virtual audience, and telling them to take whatever time they need to "go to the kitchen and get your wine," or whatever.
Mac explains that for this intimate portion, in which he's just addressing the screen with no one else present, his only prompt to the designers was "Make it look like a public-access show on LSD." And between Machine Dazzle and makeup designer Anastasia Durasova, they succeeded in that.
The virtual show includes the aforementioned "O Holy Night," this time with multiple friends — including a non-binary Baby Jesus — helping perform the gestures via pre-recorded video. And there's Mac singing "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and Machine Dazzle returning as a Christmas Tree — a role he filled in the stage version as well.
There are also two noted guest stars delivering numbers, singer Steffanie Christi'an, and Detroit's Queen of the Blues Thornetta Davis.
As for the Mac original "Christmas with Grandma," it's done here through some great animation by artist Dana Lyn, using a live recording of Mac doing the song. (There's also now a Holiday Sauce album which can be purchased here.)
All told the show is a terrific balm for those stuck at home alone, or stuck quarantining in their parents' houses, and especially for members of the LGBTQ community who have spent much of their lives dreading Christmas for various reasons. This is Mac's gift: a new, secular Christmas tradition that was made just for you. And this time around, it's beamed right to your living or bedroom or den.
The show may not be quite as moving — and Taylor may not be quite so energized — without a live audience and without the immediacy of live theater. But, such is life these days, and as Taylor says in conclusion, "We'll see you live next year."
Taylor Mac's Holiday Sauce: Pandemic! can be viewed on demand through January 2. Buy a ticket here.