The Young Ladies Of

Posted by Matthew Snead

They drag you up, your Mum & Dad

The Mac family have a unique way of hard-coding the next generation of males. In a process of humiliation that takes places at the boy’s christening, the boy is put in a frock, handed a ‘girlie’ doll, photographed and laughed at by the older attendant males: then shortly after is given a quick lesson in handgun practice. The final stage occurs some years later at 16, when the lad is fully canonised into the world of full-blown heterodom by getting a prostitute to fuck. Taylor Mac describes the process to us in verse and it’s a recurrent theme of his, sex plagued with disappointment, self-doubt and underinvestment: ‘climax came unclimactically’.

So what happened to Taylor Mac? At the age of 33, he stands before us telling us all this wearing a dirty white dress. Did someone forget to tell him to take it off? Or did he not undergo the initiation at all? I can’t stop looking at his bare legs and little feet poking out the bottom. Is he halfway through dressing or undressing? He doesn’t seem to know. He’s looking for guidance.

‘The Young Ladies Of’ is Mac’s play about his search for identity through a framework of recently discovered letters sent to his deceased father. The letters were all sent to Mac Snr., Mr Robert Mac Bowyer, in the late ‘60s during his time serving in the Vietnam war. Taylor tells us that he was only 3 when his father died, so up to this point he’s not had much to go on.

Robert had placed a personal ad to seek correspondence from young Australian females with a view to ‘R ‘n’ R’. The ad is scant and only really confirms a few facts: he’s a drinker who likes the ocean: he doesn’t like effeminate men or religious women: he’s a Texan farm boy. His hard-coding evidently went all to plan.

The ad alone is fascinating. Imagine Robert writing the ad standing in line at the newspaper office and in a few seconds, he has sent a coded message about himself to the world, that 40 years later, is being dissected by his son in a theatre. Is this invasive?

Days after seeing the play, I’m thinking of all the billions of messages that now zip around the Internet and where they will end up. Despite all being terribly concerned about CCTV cameras breathing down our necks, who gives a monkeys about about firing a message into the unknown from ‘a straight-acting top who likes red Speedos and body contact (lots of)’.

Having made connections between himself and his father (in an amusing sequence, Mac flashes up some slides: Robert in uniform (army) Taylor in uniform (drag)), he extrapolates the personae of the letter writers themselves. Here the play is at its most acute. The letters that go unanswered. Or replies that are delayed. Or too rushed. Or not giving us what is needed. It’s a nod towards the communication paranoia of today. The case of the non-reply, the late reply, the replied in error, the cc’d in error, the misjudged tone, giving rise to the ubiquitous smiley face, the wink or the dot dot dot just to take the sting out of the tale…

Mac urges us to write a letter to his father at the original address. He plans to harvest them and take them on the road with him, but never read them. We can write what we want. Tell a secret. The world has moved on since the ‘60s, and we can tell Robert all about it, be ‘phantasmagorical’. We needn’t be a Australian lady up for a bit of ‘R ‘n’ R’.

One thing that hasn’t changed is communication actually. Blackberry or pen and paper, when you reach out for someone you must be prepared for the consequences. Or just don’t reach out at all.

‘The Young Ladies Of’ Written by and starring Taylor Mac, Battersea Arts Centre, 12th May 2007.

Learn more about Taylor Mac.

I’m currently making a series of short films with Taylor Mac. The first in the series is ‘Walk’.

May 22nd, 2007 | Residents, Other Exhibitions, Reviews, Essays, Reading Room, Matthew Snead

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