The festive season is full of expectations — that dinner will be delicious, that the gifts will be great, and that everyone will get along, just like in a Christmas edition of "The Brady Bunch" or "The Waltons."
But as many of us know, the reality of the holidays is often quite different. "It's a little like water torture," said Taylor Mac. "It chisels away at you every single year."
The MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant-winning drag performer doesn’t have joyous memories of Christmas growing up gay in Stockton. Mac said the homophobia, hard-line Christianity and consumerism were hard to swallow.
So Mac decided to create a new show — “Holiday Sauce" — as an antidote to all of that.
"Basically, this show is practicing survival techniques for the holidays," Mac said in an interview at the Curran Theatre, where "Holiday Sauce" opens Friday.
One technique is to twist musty traditions, like carols, into wild new shapes. The artist's manic-snarling rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is a case in point.
"What the song is saying is, 'Christmas is under siege and we all have to love it more,' " Mac said. "So I thought it would be fun to turn it into a Wiccan Bollywood extravaganza."
Another technique centers on reframing tough relationships. That’s why Mac hired a chorus of California seniors to sing on stage.
"I had rough holidays with grandparents," Mac said. "So I thought, let me bring a bunch of elders into the show and see if we can make that better."
Drag shows have strong associations with this time of year. There are a multitude happening across California in the coming weeks, like “To Jesus, Thanks for Everything!” and "A Drag Queen Christmas" in Los Angeles, and “Drag Queens on Ice" and "The Golden Girls Live: The Christmas Episodes" playing in San Francisco.
"It's the holidays," said L.A.-based actor Jeff Sumner. "People want something kind of different."
Sumner portrays funny old ladies in pantomimes (aka "pantos"), an old English holiday tradition gaining popularity in the U.S.
The company he works for, Lythgoe Family Panto, produces several pantomimes annually in cities like Pasadena and Nashville.
Panto always involves a love story, topical humor — and a man in a dress.
"This element of drag makes it much more fantastical and much more joyous, as if like another version of Santa Claus has just dropped into your living room," Sumner said.
That’s exactly what Taylor Mac is going for with the drag show “Holiday Sauce”. The artist plans to expand the production each year, aiming eventually to rival mainstream holiday entertainment.
"My fantasy is that we can get all the retired Rockettes in our show," Mac said. "The Rockettes' Christmas Spectacular seems like such a sexist machine, with some really creepy traditions to it, and just so corporate. So it would be fabulous to replace that."
Lythgoe Family Panto presents "Beauty and the Beast" at Laguna Playhouse Dec. 5-30, and "The Wonderful Winter of Oz" at Pasadena Civic Dec. 14-30.