New York City Theater
"Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus"
Not since “Marat/Sade” has there been a show as lunatic as Taylor Mac’s outrageous “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” written partly in rhymed couplets. Although playing on Broadway, it would be just at home at Creedmoor or the Asylum of Charenton. When, after a short opening monologue, the curtain opens to reveal piles and piles of anatomically correct male “corpses” (actually dummies, of course), you look for the nearest straightjacket. (Set by Santo Loquasto, costumes by Ann Roth.)
Actually, we’re in Emperor Titus’ banquet room (“post slaughter and post coup” but prior to an inauguration) though we just as easily might be on a battlefield of dead bodies. As detailed in Shakespeare’s shocking “Titus Andronicus,” there have been several killings, a lopping off of a tongue and hands, rape and, the topper, murdered sons baked into a pie and served to their mother. Yes, we got it right: “Gary” is a comedy -- with bite.
How could it not be what with such brilliant comedic actors as Nathan Lane (Gary), Kristine Nielsen (Janice) and Julie White (Carol), directed by the inventive George C. Wolfe? Yet it’s a comedy in the same serious manner as Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” (“What are you crying for?” asks Janice. “The state of the world,” answers Gary.)
It also deals in the same kinds of low humor and high purpose as in Beckett. For every fart joke –and there are plenty – are musings about women’s work and the difference between being a clown and a fool (Gary is the former, yearning to be the latter). Right now, he’s a maid, a step above Clown, a step below Fool. (A clown is dumb, a fool teases “out our stupidity with brains.”)
His job is to help Janice clean up the bodies, which means getting rid of each corpse’s flatulence and blood – and not getting the fluids mixed up. Meanwhile, Carol is the guilt-ridden midwife who bungled by not protecting an adulterous couple’s mixed-race baby. A do-over offer glimmers of hope and salvation, as the maids “turn the hopelessness of a massacre into a coup of beauty,” an “artistic coup” that might save the world.
“Gary,” for all its mania, dips in interest when the blend of pathos and hysteria slights both. It’s a political play, of course, a warning about where we’re headed in a world where draconian power is on the upswing. Despots and would-be despots make the mess. It’s the common people – we -- who must clean up, then, now and in the future.
--David A. Rosenberg
May 16, 2019