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A CurtainUp Review
Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus
Santo Loquasto has conjured a magnificently ghoulish set (lit by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer). A mound of corpses greets our eyes when the lights go up. It harks back to the slaughter and coup in the finale of Titus. But it also puts us on notice that we have entered a theatrical world of raw horror.
Set during the fall of the Roman Empire, the story opens in the opulent banquet room of General Titus Andronicus, following the slaughter and coup that virtually killed everyone. Two servants — Gary (Nathan Lane) and Janice (Kristine Nielsen) are cleaning up the corpses and tidying the space in preparation for the new emperor's inauguration.
The bodies are divided into three separate sections: the unprocessed, the processed (and naked), and the women and children hidden under a huge sheet. The unprocessed cadavers are hoisted, one by one, to the work station on stage, where they are stripped and have their blood siphoned out. No, this isn't for the faint hearted!
Gary, who was recently promoted from street clown to maid, is a trainee under the more experienced maid Janice. As he begins to get a handle on his job, he ruefully notes "Just seems, if this is the kind of thing ya gotta do on the regular, ya might not be living your best life." While this at first all seems like mere tomfoolery, each of the three characters eventually poses a big question on the human condition.
Mac isn't the first artist who has taken bit parts from a Shakespeare play and transformed them into characters who speak their mind and heart. Tom Stoppard did it terrifically in his Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, a meditation on Hamlet from the perspective of his two old school friends. But what makes Mac's experiment unique is that he's not grafting his drama onto one of the Bard's well-known works. Instead, he is embracing Shakespeare's step-child and perhaps the most undervalued play in the whole canon. That's no easy task.
Although it helps to be familiar with Shakespeare's Titus, Gary stands theatrically on its own. And, if one listens closely to its principals, one gets a clear outline of the tragic events embedded in this early tragedy: the rape of Lavinia and the brutal dismemberment of her tongue and arms; Tamora's two sons ground up and baked in a pie that's served to their unsuspecting mother; and the illegitimate birth and fate of Tamora's black-skinned baby.
The 45 year-old Mac has gained a reputation as a theatrical risk-taker. His earlier works include a 24-Decade History of Popular Music (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), and his dysfunctional family play Hir. Gary is Mac's debut on Broadway. And it's a very wild ride indeed. Though its 95 minutes are never boring, the nonlinear plotline can induce vertigo at times, and the gross details and low humor are hardly likely to make this a Broadway hit.
That said, there's Nathan Lane displaying his knack for physical comedy and immaculate timing. Kristine Nielsen, who also performed in Mac's Hir, is superb as the practical maid. Her Janice is a born boss.
Julie White too is in her comic element as the quirky midwife Carol. After delivering Tamora's illegitimate black-skinned baby, she suffers pangs of guilt for not doing more for the tiny empress' heir. But Carol is more than a bundle of raw nerve ends. She ingeniously invents the term "middle class"— which aptly describes her own position in American culture
White is not the only inventor in the story. Lane's Gary invents a new genre called "A Fooling" that anticipates our modern drama (sort of). At the risk of being a spoiler, Lane's "Fooling" sows the seeds for a surreal finale — a kick-line dance in which some naked corpses trip the light fantastic.
Gary is a comic concoction that will hit home with some theatergoers but make many wince, especially at the excessive use of low comedy and bloody stage business. That said, it does deliver a potent political message. As Mac himself said in a recent TV segment on CBS Sunday Morning: "All of us have to clean up after our particular political systems that are falling apart right now. And, eventually, we are going to have to pick up the pieces."
All in all, one must admire Mac for the creative risks he's taken in his latest venture. Whether you go for the laughs, the great acting, or its political truths, you won't see anything else like it on Broadway.
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Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus by Taylor Mac
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Cast: Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielson, Julie White
Scenic design: Santo Loquasto
Costume Design: Ann Roth
Lighting Design: Jules Fisher & Peggy Eisenhauer
Stage Manager: William Joseph Barnes
. Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
Booth Theatre 222 West 45th Street
From 3/09/19, opening 4/21/19.Closing 8/04/19
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan based on 4/24 press performance
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