"Don't try to understand it all," Taylor Mac said during Friday's performance of his latest, epic performance piece, Bark of Millions. "I wrote all of it and even I don't understand it all."

The newest work, with music by longtime collaborator Matt Ray and songs performed by a dozen cast members, solo and as an ensemble, is a cycle of 55 songs — one for year since the Stonewall Riots. Each song, save for a couple that are devoted to concepts or groups, is about a queer person or being from history, beginning with the genderqueer Egyptian god Atum. And it just had its Bay Area premiere Friday, with additional performances Saturday and Sunday, at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall — as part of the Cal Performances calendar.

The music styles range wildly, from operatic to rock to blues and Christian hymnal, and this is just the way of Ray and Mac — encompassing all of music, and claiming all genres as queer.

There was certainly something religious, or at least ritualistic, about Mac's 24-hour magnum opus that he/judy performed in San Francisco over two weekends in 2017, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. (Mac prefers "judy" as a pronoun — and his gender is "performer" — and has had to explain that this isn't a joke, though writers and critics have tended to avoid trying to use it for clarity's sake, and Mac told the Washington Post in 2018 he's "fine with he" and he's just "putting judy out there.") Mac called that piece "A Radical Faerie Realness Ritual Sacrifice," and emphasized that it wasn't so much a concert or a drag show as it was a collective experience for audience and performers, meant to evoke a "dire circumstance" and inspired in part by the AIDS crisis and the community it left behind.

Bark of Millions is of a similar, hard-to-define vein, and Mac is calling it "A Parade Trance Extravaganza for the Living Library of the Deviant Theme."

It is, if nothing else, propelled by its structure, and rarely takes a breath.

"Judy’s been a form queen," Mac writes of his oeuvre. "I love a hand painted map.   Personalized, researched, detailed, figurative, metaphorical, and imperfect. Essentially:  stack the genres, layer the forms, delight in the human warbles, throw in a little direction, notice the image is faded, get lost, damp, realize it’s grown something that might be harming you, try to clean it, hope it worked, realize it hasn’t, choose to make use of the harm, find a different way, repeat with variation, and call it theatre."

The songs, some of them extraordinarily pretty, some of them dirge-like or difficult, many of them peppy, do not trace along any particular through-line — and don't go looking for linearity in time, apart from the opening with Atum creating themself.

The cast of 'Bark of Millions' performing "Herman Melville/Nathaniel Hawthorne." Photo by Daniel Boud

The unifying effect is one of liturgy — and Mac writes in a program note that "cult-like" aspect to the work was unintentional and "terrifies me... (and also makes me laugh)." We are being taken to queer church, and these could be the hymns — one to Frankie Knuckles, one to Greta Garbo, one to Leonardo Da Vinci, one to trans playwright and gender theorist Kate Bornstein (which includes the lyric "in the beginning, there was Kate Bornstein"). But Mac doesn't exactly want you to feel preached at.

"Please know that if it seems like we're praising rather than wondering... then that might be because you've most likely never seen a group of queer people sing songs inspired by queer people for four hours. So the only context you have is... church," Mac writes.

Is Bark of Millions, after four continuous hours of music, exhausting even to a willing audience? Yes, but that always seems to be part of Taylor Mac's project as an artist — even his piece The Lily's Revenge, a musical play about a lily that's now over a decade old, clocked in at five-plus hours and required a dinner break.

It's about maximalism, and the gumption to put us through something and believe in its worth, even if it's impolitely long and defies easy categorization. It's also about creating a text — one that can't possibly be fully appreciated in a single, albeit long sitting.

One example is the gorgeous duet Mac does with Steffanie Christi'an, "Ladies of Llangollen." The story is one most audience members won't know — two 18th Century Irish women, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who lived together as a couple in Llangollen, North Wales and entertained guests in their latter years like Wordsworth and Shelley. But the effect of the duet, even before one goes back to read about who these women were, is something wondrous — and wondering — appreciative of their love, which was so scandalous and mysterious to their contemporaries.

As Mac says in the opening of the show, "We're recording an album. You can study it all later."

Here, unlike the 24-Decade piece, Mac is center stage and singing solo only about one-eighth of the time, giving the spotlight over to a bevy of extraordinary singers — highlights including the divine Steffanie Christi'an, the virtuosic Mama Alto, the charming Stephen Quinn, the melifluous Jack Fuller, and local wonder El Beh, who brought the house down singing a haunting song for genderqueer Mexican singer Chavela Vargas in Spanish.

In the song "Margaret Cho," which falls in the final third of Bark of Millions, Mac reveals one big inspiration for this show — which came amid the dueling Pride parades in Manhattan that arose in recent years, one for corporations and one for activists. Mac describes drinking on the afternoon of Pride at the Cowgirl Cafe in the West Village, and recalling Margaret Cho's joke about bisexuality: "I was like, Am I gay? Am I straight? And I realized... I'm just slutty. Where's my parade?"

Mac identifies with the question — and this show has become that personal parade. A "Parade Trance Extravaganza" in fact, which celebrates "Eccentricity" (that is a song as well) and Bayard Rustin and Mac's drag mother, Mother Flawless Sabrina, all at once.

"[We] have been storing up our history, pain, erasure, and love, love, love, for what seems like millenniums," Mac writes. "The hope is that we'll make you a little more queer than when you entered the theater... [and] as a result... then we all won't have to watch our backs as much."