BWW Review: Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielson and Julie White are Bloody Brilliant in Taylor Mac's Absurdist GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS
Don't let the title scare you. All you need to know about Shakespeare's infamously bloody revenge tragedy before laughing yourself silly at Taylor Mac's Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, is that the Bard's final dead body count among Roman nobles is exceedingly high.
The focus here isn't on the Elizabethan scribe, but on the Broadway debut of Taylor Mac, that Obie-winning, Genius Grant receiving, Pulitzer finalist whose masterly of ridiculousness and absurdity has made the performer/author a mainstay of Gotham's downtown arts scene.
Mac doesn't appear in this one, but is the fortunate recipient of three of Broadway's finest clowns to juice up his wild onstage antics.
Appearing before designer Santo Loquasto's classically-styled red curtain, which parts at the center, Julie White, playing a befuddled midwife named Carol, opens the play by reciting a verse prologue while using her hand to try and stop the bleeding from her slit throat.
"Will we surpass the past or be its equal? / Will we affirm or break the bloody sequel?," she ponders as fountains of blood squirt from her neck.
White's commitment to the moment, paired with her wide-eyed bewilderment, is perfectly hilarious and sets the tone for the combination of highbrow literacy (directed with great pathos by George C. Wolfe) and lowbrow physical comedy (movement choreographed by another great clown, Bill Irwin) to follow.
"Bit more of them than I was expecting," understates Nathan Lane, as the cockney-accented title character, at his first glimpse of the enormous stack of dead bodies and piles of appendages that fill the banquet room which is now being used to temporarily store The Remains of the unfortunate victims of the source play's dirty doings.
Gary is the name Mac gives to one of the original's minor characters, a clown, who now finds it curious to be the center of attention.
"I always was a clown who hated clowns. / Ya know the type who stumbles 'bout the towns / With off-timed jokes invariably that flop, / And so becomes a target for the slop."
With most of the other servants slaughtered, Gary has been promoted to the position of maid, though his real ambition in life is to be a fool.
The room must be cleaned for the next day's coronation and supervising the task is the lone surviving maid, Janice, played as a tough-as-nails cockney by Kristine Nielson.
With the dead bodies represented by anatomically correct props, Janice tutors Gary in the business of setting each one on a table, jiggling and bending the bodies to remove excess flatulence (insert fart jokes here) pumping out any remaining feces and siphoning out the blood. Gary also learns the hard way about watching out for unexpectedly full bladders. (You know where this is going, right?)
Underneath it all, of course, is the inevitability of the less fortunate among us being left to clean up the messes of the privileged leaders. Gary surmises that it's up the clowns and other artists of the world to lead a successful coup of the tyrants in charge.
"Not a violent coup. An artistic one. An onslaught of ingenuity that's a transformation of the calamity we got here."
Eventually Carol reenters the picture and while the philosophical issues of leadership, class and art don't always land as completely as the expertly-performed wordplay and slapstick, not to mention a rousing spectacle near the finish that is best left as a surprise, GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS is bound inspire further thought about those who create madness in art to inspire revolts against the madness of the world's injustices.