But Gary is just as difficult, in the best sense, to sum up neatly: a raucous comedy whose subject is tragedy-not the titular Shakespeare play, which is merely its starting point, but our enduring capacity for destruction, which Mac engages with gloriously raunchy humor and blazing intuition, and an aching tenderness that sneaks up on you and wraps itself around your heart.
GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS Broadway Reviews
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus just opened on Broadway. Starring three-time Tony Award winner Nathan Lane, Tony Award nominee Nielsen, and Tony Award winner White, Gary is directed by five-time Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe. Featuring original music by Danny Elfman, and movement by Bill Irwin, Gary is set just after the blood-soaked conclusion of William Shakespeare's first tragedy, Titus Andronicus.
In Gary, Taylor Mac's singular world view intersects with Shakespeare's first tragedy, Titus Andronicus. In Mac's extraordinary new play, set during the fall of the Roman Empire, the years of bloody battles are over. The civil war has ended. The country has been stolen by madmen, and there are casualties everywhere. And two very lowly servants - Lane and Nielsen- are charged with cleaning up the bodies. The year is 400 - but it feels like the end of the world.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Lane embodies the tomfoolery and vague melancholy of Shakespeare's best fools, equally adept at milking crude sight gags and waxing philosophical. Nielsen's antic ability to wring every laugh from with slightest tick has rarely met a more fruitful context. Julie White completes the funerary tea party as a midwife who crawls from the corporal heap having survived a slit to her throat. Under the direction of George C. Wolfe, three singular performers blend in harmony to deliver a maniacal and uproarious treatise on the end of the world. Man's downfall has never seemed such a hoot.
So for me, at least, the most convincing and powerful moments came when the performances aligned with the gravity of the premise. Gary's speech about the power of art to create new realities was one such moment for Mr. Lane: You could feel the hope in the hyperbole he spoke of.
BWW Review: Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielson and Julie White are Bloody Brilliant in Taylor Mac's Absurdist GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS
...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.
Nathan Lane Is Nobody’s Fool In Taylor Mac’s Bloody Hilarious ‘Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus’ – Broadway Review
And while we're on the subject of inadequacy, put me down for singling out Lane, who is only the most obvious of the pleasures in Taylor Mac's Gary: A Sequel To Titus Andronicus, the outrageous, hysterically funny and connivingly moving new play opening on Broadway tonight at the Booth Theatre.
Mac borrows lightly from "Waiting for Godot," but unlike Samuel Beckett, Mac doesn't indulge in repetition to the point of tedium. Lane has played this kind of absurdist character before. Here, he even uses Harpo Marx's horn to goose a laugh; yet, despite all the gags, this clown-turned-worker-turned-Fool is ultimately very poignant in his quest to save the world. Meanwhile, the usually flighty Nielsen has never been more comically stolid. Watching Lane's gnat of a character pick away at her filth-smeared carcass is theater heaven as viewed from the sewer.
Gary, in other words, isn't fooling around. Like its hero, it has big plans, and like its hero, those plans do not come off with perfect smoothness. Lane is tremendous, and Julie White is screamingly funny as the play's third character, Carol: a middle-class midwife racked with guilt over her bystander role in one of Titus's many subtragedies, in which her own throat was nonfatally slit. (She's a bleeding-neck liberal.) But although Nielsen-who took over the role of Janice just before previews-wrings laughs from her signature facial aftershocks, the performance lacks variety; not all of the story's beats play out clearly, and while George C. Wolfe's production delivers all the flatulence a person could desire, there are stretches where it runs out of gas.
Nathan Lane Cleans Up Broadway’s Biggest Pile of Dead Bodies in ‘Gary: a Sequel to Titus Andronicus’
Gary is a farce, a piece of messy circus whose many tones and shades will likely divide audiences and critics. But there is nothing like it on Broadway, and that is to be welcomed. It is an argument for art, and a passionate call for resistance-a pie of clashing ingredients just as is served for tea in the play. All three characters make their own brave moves at the end to effect some kind of change.
The show is often riotously funny, with a third character Carol, played by the dazzlingly dry and witty Julie White, drawn into the carnage. The play packs a lot in -- including a surprise coup d'theatre that I won't spoil by revealing. This is bold, audacious work -- Broadway has not seen anything quite like this before.
In Gary, his characters succeed. Gary pulls off his Fooling. White's midwife, Carol, who appears halfway through Gary's machinations, still alive among the mound of bodies, finds and saves the baby that she believes she'd left to die back in the original play. (Why had she done that? It's complicated.) Life goes on. One hopes that's as true offstage as on.
REVIEW: Nathan Lane plays title character in Broadway’s ‘Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus’ with a funny, formidable ferocity
Lane is quite spectacularly good here - he's in deeper than I've ever seen him, and I've been watching him for years. He's more vulnerable, too. His ambition - to be the fool, the kind of Stephen Colbert-like figure who speaks truth to power, rather than the clown guy who only offers non-ideological escape - is what drives this performance, remarkable in all kinds of ways.
There's no shortage of art and craft in this offbeat show; but there's also a limit to how much goofiness a comedy can support, and Mac may have gone over his limit. The jokes start to feel lame and the crude burlesque routines seem a bit cruel. Is this what happens to clowns when they overreach and do a pratfall? Maybe so. In which case, Mac might do a little bloodletting on his dramatic corpus.
The play wants to be a breathless farce, a political gut-punch, a meditation on our penchant for violence and our reverence for classical drama, a vigorous mash-up of high- and lowbrow (imagine the "Approval Matrix" ... all squished together), and a defiant, art-forward beacon of hope. And it feels like some of these things, some of the time. But despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that George C. Wolfe's production is pitched pretty much unrelentingly at 11, Gary isn't as funny or as biting as it could be. Like the big Rube Goldberg machine that looms over Santo Loquasto's appropriately garish, corpse-strewn set, the play's working parts, while visible, aren't always activated.
Were it not for Lane's participation, "Gary" might have premiered instead at the Public Theater or another Off-Broadway venue open to its combination of Shakespeare, physical comedy and sincerity. One can't help but admire Lane's willingness to take part in an unpredictable new work instead of another revival. He gives an absolutely committed performance as a sad and sensitive clown/struggling everyman while being backed by two superb comic actresses.
It would be a pleasure to report that the gamble has paid off, at least creatively. Unfortunately, despite the tremendous abundance of talent both onstage and off, the production is mainly notable for being the most batshit-crazy thing to be seen on Broadway in many a moon.
Ultimately, it's 95 minutes of weirdness and somehow not as funny as you want it to be. While tempting, it's not right to blame the last-minute cast shuffle brought on when an injury forced Andrea Martin to drop out. The real problem is that the genius of Mac (a MacArthur grant recipient and Pulitzer Prize finalist) gets lost in a tsunami of full-frontal distractions, pie-in-the-face slapstick and anachronistic baby shark gags. Gary himself makes the perfect point. "You can't see anything," he says, "but its ridiculousness."
All three stars get credit for taking on an out-there challenge, even if they resort to their go-to tricks: Lane bellows as Gary, Nielsen doubles down on her signature double takes as Janice and White works her trusty frantic and plaintive reflexes as Carol. They're sometimes funny, but not enough. It's been said that comedy is tragedy plus time. "Gary," a comedy, alas, is just tragic.