There’s a lot of walking in place happening in Taylor Mac’s latest play, The Walk Across America for Mother Earth, now playing at La MaMa E.T.C.’s Ellen Stewart theatre. About half of the duration of the play features one or more of the characters conversing while walking or running in place, and there’s little coincidence that the play feels similarly paced.
The play follows Kelly (Taylor Mac), a young gay man who goes on a walk across America with a group of activists in the hopes of shutting down a nuclear test site. His travel companions include the mysterious Rainbow Carl (Jack Weatherall), aging country gay Greeter (James Tigger! Ferguson), and fiercely competitive group leaders Marsha (Tina Shepard) and King Arthur (Steven Rattazzi).
As with Mac’s last major piece in New York, The Lily’s Revenge, style occasionally trumps substance. Fortunately, the Talking Band, the theatre company within which Mac is central, has style in droves. Just about everyone’s face is painted to the nines; the outfits (designed by Machine Dazzle) are impeccably camp – check out those fanny packs! Aesthetically, there’s plenty to engage with, and, similarly, the songs, written by Ellen Maddow, provide bursts of gleeful distraction.
Unfortunately, the text at the heart of the piece could use some tightening. Clocking in around two hours with an intermission, the play seems about a half hour too long, particularly when events seem to race by without much overall contribution to the play’s overall message that occasionally activism is in itself an exercise in style over substance. As the play struggles to find its conclusion, there are one too many quickly delivered plot points.
Aside from the drawbacks of its meandering pace, Walk Across America has its redeeming features. A well-orchestrated intermission event finds the audience encouraged to take posed protest photos to be emailed to the subject (though, for the record, I never received mine); the cast also sang several cut songs during the break while a ravenous audience munched on free snacks and lemonade.
For all its glitz, Walk Across America proves itself a conflictingly entertaining evening. As an experience it’s fun, though, as a play, the evening is lacking. It’s difficult to find fault with a bunch of theatrical misfits as likable as those on stage at La MaMa. And that, finally, is what the piece seems to assert: Yes, the human race may be a scattered bunch, but we’re constantly moving forward. The play’s final moments solidify this notion and leave a lasting impression. In some ways, the end of the walk seems satisfying for the accomplishment it signifies. Mac’s aren’t easy plays; they’re endurance tests, and I for one feel glad to have come along for the walk, blisters and all.