Titus Andronicus is Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy, whose characters are variously beheaded, buried alive and baked in a pie. In Taylor Mac’s new play, which supposedly picks up where the Bard left off, all that’s left is a mountain of bodies and two servants, who set about cleaning up the gory mess left by their masters.
Nathan Lane’s waggish Gary senses an opportunity. Formerly a clown, he now revels in his promotion to “maid” and hopes to be further elevated to the status of a fully fledged fool. He also harbours an unlikely idealist streak, believing that a new, more harmonious world can be erected on the ruins of the late Roman empire. Kristine Nielsen’s Janice is more down-to-earth and takes morbid pleasure in “pumping out the goo of life” as she and Gary start sorting their way through the innumerable corpses.
Toilet humour is not just a source of comic relief in Gary but the play’s raison d’être. Stomachs are pumped, rectums excavated, and phalluses tweaked with the aid of a bizarre Steampunk-like contraption. Why this pair should take such a sustained interest in human waste is not entirely clear. And all this excremental carry-on should, by rights, yield diminishing comic returns. Yet Lane and Nielsen display such abundant vaudevillian flair that their scatological doings remain weirdly captivating as they navigate the surreal contours of Mac’s script, which is mostly written in rhymed verse.
They are eventually joined by Julie White’s Carol, an oddly chipper midwife who emerges from a wall of corpses to supply a bit of back-story about the carnage of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The infamous pie inevitably makes an appearance. Carol’s job title also becomes the source of a few gags about what it means to be “middle class”.
Like Titus itself, Gary is all over the place. And Mac’s defiantly whimsical 95-minute “sequel”, briskly staged by George C. Wolfe, has no discernible point to make. There’s nonetheless something delightfully bonkers about combining the sensibility of Beavis and Butt-Head with the idiom of classical theatre. And Lane, Nielsen and White conjure an infectious atmosphere of grotesque merriment.
Booking to August 4, garyonbroadway.com
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