If there’s one big advantage to seeing this year’s rendition of “Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce” (renamed “Holiday Sauce … Pandemic!”) on a computer screen instead of onstage, it’s the opportunity to see Mac’s costume, by the brilliant costume designer Machine Dazzle, up close, as well as the artful makeup by Anastasia Durasova.
Initially Mac appears full screen, stationary amid a background collage that’s as glittery and colorful as Christmas wrapping paper, in an enormous fruit-and-vegetable headdress that includes, upon close scrutiny, pumpkin, red pepper, squash, leaves, cucumber, onion and more, topped by a couple of carrots sticking straight up. With one rosy apple cheek and one peach cheek, two cherries for lips and a pear for a nose — and an outfit to match the headgear—judy’s (Mac’s preferred pronoun) a dazzling vision.
“My zucchini jawline might traumatize the children,” judy warns jovially.
More likely to traumatize the children is Mac’s macabre rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” later in the 80-minute variety show.
One of several songs — including an impassioned “O Holy Night” — sung by Mac and others, such as vocalists Thornetta Davis and Stephanie Christi’an, with a full band, this very unmerry rendition is a threat, a warning. It involves an image of a gravestone plus Tigger!, who created the piece, dancing in a field of red poppies.
Mac has been presenting this show live for several years (seen in The City at the Curran in 2018), and the snark, sly humor, warmth, open-heartedness and queer-centric bawdiness read almost as well (minus Mac’s direct interaction with a live audience) on streaming video as they do onstage; Mac’s charisma is that pervasive, that contagious. (Parts are pre-recorded and other parts were live on opening night.)
Mac told the designers to imagine this COVID-era version as “a public access show on LSD,” and it’s a ramshackle affair for sure, always has been, and at various times self-indulgent, cynical, ferocious and raunchy. Under Jeremy Lydic’s direction, it lacks the rigor and structure of Mac’s “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music.” But Mac’s always irresistibly winsome.
This holiday show is dedicated to judy’s mentor, “my dragmother,” Mother Flawless Sabrina, who died in 2017 and was the inspiration for a movement of gays in New York. The elders among that group are introduced, one by one, during the show.
Mother’s bons mots are scattered throughout: “You’re the boss, applesauce!” she’d say, meaning have faith in yourself, you’re in charge of your own story (hence the show’s title). Or, “Normal is a setting on the dryer” and “Reality is a mass hunch.”
Along the way, various entertainers among Mac’s coterie pop up for cameos in Zoom squares: Sexual Consent Santa, baby jesus. And we see Machine Dazzle “moonlighting” as a Christmas tree. “We are all present in a box this year,” muses Mac. “How can you become a present in a box?”
An especially hilarious segment is “Christmas with Grandma,” an animated musical short, written and sung by Mac, that’s a deliciously dark and sick Christmas memoir, its characters rolling and bouncing Christmas tree ornaments. It knocks “Grandma Got Run Over a Reindeer” out of the ballpark entirely.
As when I saw it onstage, there were times I wanted a tighter scenario, and other times when I was delighted by Mac’s anything-goes, unsentimental wackiness.
Anyway, as Mac assures viewers in the opening monologue, “Everything you’re feeling is appropriate.”
“Holiday Sauce… Pandemic,” presented by the Curran and Pomegranate Arts, streams through Jan. 2 at sfcurran.com/holiday-sauce-pandemic! Tickets are $10.