"The Lily's Revenge" Encourages Diversity and Community
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Thursday, April 26, 2018
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Thursday, April 26, 2018
In the fall of 2016, the week of the presidential election, graduate student Jen Onopa proposed Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge to the UMass Theater Department mainstage season. “I had been wanting to work on a production for my thesis that would address several goals or dreams that I was wanting to fulfill through a theater project,” Onopa shared. “One was to create a project that would invite as many students from our theater community as possible into the production, another was to respond to the divisive rhetoric of the election while also bringing people together through a theatrical experience, and a third was to create something boldly theatrical and stylized to explore for my own personal experience as a director.”
As an allegory for embracing the LGBTQIA+ community amidst a sometimes discouraging political backdrop, The Lily’s Revenge does just that. The story follows the quest of an anthropomorphic Lily who desires to transform into a human man in order to marry the human bride the Lily has fallen in love with. "At its core, The Lily's Revenge is a play about community, courage, authenticity, and expanding perceptions of love--all ideas which feel necessary and hopeful at this time,” Onopa said.
Dramaturg Gaven D. Trinidad spent many months collecting resources for Jen Onopa. “As a queer POC from New York City, many of the LGBTQIA+ references in the show were very familiar with me as I grew up in the area, in which many of Taylor Mac's artistic influences did their work,” Trinidad expressed, “It was interesting to gather this collection of sources - whether they were films, newspaper clippings, photos, websites, queer and feminist theory - it was as if I was constructing a curriculum of LGBTQIA media course! It was extraordinarily fun and exhilarating.”
The resources that resonated most with Onopa were then forwarded to the rest of the production team to embody the vision of the production. Working closely with their designer colleagues, both Onopa and Trinidad created a “common language” for the production. “In particular, I worked closely with Christina Beam [to accurately represent the] politics of representation and history of drag within the costume designs,” Gaven explained.
Tackling the titular character, Steve Folmar Jr. ‘20 shared his exhilarating experience of receiving the news of his casting. “I cried when I found out I was cast as the Lily,” he expressed, “As a queer Black actor it’s rare that I get to play roles that speak to my experience and playing a queer role as big as the Lily has been a dream of mine.” Folmar provides the Lily with the agency to disrupt the oppressive system set in place in the piece. Through radical acts of love the Lily forces itself into the center of the play, takes over the narrative, and embarks on a journey of self discovery.
With over thirty actors, the cast steps up to the unique challenge of characterizing inanimate or anthropomorphic characters. A part of the band ensemble, also known as the Daisy Chain, actor Tyler Dibenedetto ‘19 explained that physical comedy and clowning were utilized to illustrate his role, “As a punk rock Daisy, I’m a huge clown in the show. Though I mostly have a station in the background of the show, I’m given the task of providing perspective of the action without my direct involvement. It’s as if I’m checking in with the audience as in ‘did that character just say what I think they did?’ which helps them understand the larger world surrounding these characters.”
In addition these actors must span through multiple different spaces in the Fine Arts Center over the course of a run time that nears close to three hours and forty-five minutes with three intermissions. “Durational theater requires that we need to work extra hard to sustain the engagement of the audience. The cast has been very supportive of each other in this work. They are working super-hard!” Onopa commended. This five-act show demands the utmost stamina and energy from each actor. With the play's length a little longer than an average musical, Trinidad explained this is a tool of playwright Taylor Mac utilizing the time to get audience members acquainted and actively establishing a “community-building event.” For Folmar, this show is the longest play he’s ever worked on, but explained that Taylor Mac’s writing really takes care of the actors. “Though I appear in most of the play, there is built in time for me to rest,” he said, “It takes a great deal of stamina to play this role, so I try my best to make sure I’m well rested, have eaten enough food, and have enough water before rehearsals.”
A unique theatrical journey, Taylor Mac’s The Lily’s Revenge encourages all participants to rethink the heteronormative structures ingrained in society as well as celebrate the beauty in individuality and self-expression. “My ideal vision (and the vision of Taylor Mac) is that audience members will eventually start interacting and conversing with each other, as people do who meet each other at a wedding or other community event,” Onopa shared, “I hope [audience members] take away some reminders that love comes in many forms, that the commercialism and institution of heteronormative marriage does not need to structure our thinking about love, and that it’s really, truly okay and necessary to be our own beautiful, unique selves. [We need to] recognize and have fun with the fact that we are all in this wild extravaganza together.”
The Lily' Revenge runs April 18, 20, 26, 27 at 6:30 p.m. and April 21, 28, & 29 at 1 p.m. in the Curtain Theater. PRIDE NIGHT IS APRIL 27! Tickets are $5 for students and seniors, $15 general admission. Theater tickets are available at the Fine Arts Center box office, by calling 1-800-999-UMAS or by visiting the box office online.