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Review: Lily’s Revenge

Jules Becker
Review: Lily’s Revenge

Imagine a five-act play turned nuptials at Club Oberon where the audience are wedding guests. Be prepared for hand-out cues and lines as Forget-Me-Nots. Also be prepared to stand and move at times and have performers fraternize in non-threatening ways.

Expect an on-going war between deities called Time and The Great Longing. Add a kind of alternate Garden of Eden lush with gender-bending flower-human hybrids dressed in whimsically flamboyant get-ups. Look for a lively mix of ballet, jazz, folklore, farce, burlesque, haiku, Noh theater and especially myth.

Top everything off with an amusing face-off between wedding couples called Bride and Groom Love and Bride and Groom Deity. What you have is a very overlong (over four hours with three intermissions) but often entertaining American Repertory Theatre potpourri of light-heartedness called “Lily’s Revenge,” in its area premiere through Sunday.

Conceived and written by theater artist Taylor Mac, who plays the title flower-human, “Lily’s Revenge” calls into question theatergoers’ assumptions about a variety of large notions, among them reality and nostalgia, community and conflict, gender and sexuality and hate and love.

Throughout his play-as-wedding, Time champions uncompromising reality while The Great Longing trumpets the easy pleasures of nostalgia. Mysterious figure Lily is determined to bridge the divide between Time and The Great Longing with the power of love as a groom.

From act to act, Lily seems to evolve. Is Lily a man, a woman or a hybrid? Mac brings impressive range to this chameleon-like character. He also sings with a robust voice and delivers Rachelle Garniez’s exuberant score with striking phrasing and expressive movement.

If Mac’s play is often repetitive in its exploration of reality and myth and too busy in its evocation of competing ideas and feelings, it is successful in making audience members care about Lily’s fortunes as a re-inventing flower and human.

Colm Dubhrosa’s fifth act film enhances the play’s depiction of Lily’s evolution and emotional growth.

Director Shira Milikowsky does very well with the high-diversity, 42-actor cast despite the challenges of the play’s length. Besides Mac’s own luminous performance as Lily, there are commanding performances by Samantha Eggers as tenacious Time and Thomas Derrah as tyrannical yet sometimes diffident Great Longing.

Adeola Role, a black actress studying at A.R.T., catches the warmth and gusto of Susan Stewart, Time’s feminist lover. Remo Airaldi brings authority and proper petulance to Master Sunflower, who takes pride in overseeing the Garden Flowers.

Dereks O. Thomas, whose credits include “Passing Strange” and “Obamanologues,” is a hoot as Tulip, and John Kuntz appeals as Poppy. Teri Gamble, whose work includes the Harlem Ensemble production of “Ragtime,” brings great sweetness to Baby’s Breath. Marissa Fratto’s emotionally conflicted Bride Love and Samson Kohanski’s sexually ambivalent Groom Love capture Mac’s intriguing insights about the ups and downs of marriage in The Love Act.

Special kudos go to Sarah Cubbage for creating costumes as wide-ranging as Mac’s play. The rainbow hues of the Flower Garden characters are as enjoyable as a vivid museum exhibit.

Some audience members may feel imprisoned by the length of Mac’s play and the physical demands of being part of the wedding party. Ultimately “Lily’s Revenge” rewards theatergoers’ stamina and patience with the pleasures of its talent, including Mac’s own tour de force as Lily.

Still, judicious pruning would make the lushness of its allegorical message about love, identity and freedom all the more breath-taking.

Lily’s Revenge, American Repertory Theatre, Club Oberon, through October 28. 617-547-8300 or