Photos by Julieta Cervantes
Sequel to Titus Andronicus
By Ron Cohen
are piled high. They’re oozing blood and other bodily liquids. And yes, as you probably
have heard, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus is indeed a comedy, quite
a funny one.
Andronicus was one of
Shakespeare’s earliest plays, perhaps his first tragedy, dating back to circa
1590. It’s filled with a lot of fictitious Roman Empire folks getting revenge
on one another in gory and gruesome ways and was apparently an attempt – and a
successful one -- by Shakespeare to gain a foothold with bloodthirsty Elizabethan
popularity has ebbed and flowed with the years, but for four centuries there
hasn’t exactly been a hue and cry for a follow-up. But that was before Taylor
Mac apparently decided one was due. Mac is a celebrated bard – of downtown New
York theater – and a performer as well, laden with various prizes and other acclaim,
including being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Along with a
portfolio of off-beat plays, Mac – who uses “judy” as a gender pronoun – has
sung with Mandy Patinkin in a two-person show entitled The Last Two People
on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudeville and got an audience to sit through a
24-hour long history of American popular music. So, why not a sequel to Titus
Titus ends with a bloody banquet, in which dishes cooked up with human
parts are served and numerous characters are killed.
Mac picks it
up from there, after a brief front-of-the-curtain prologue in which an apparent
victim of the banquet delivers a meditation on sequels, with hints of what we
are about to witness. Her speech is punctuated with squirts of blood from her
bandaged neck. Portraying a mid-wife named Carol, Julie White, one of the three
top-shelf comic actors inhabiting the play, makes every squirt a sight gag.
At the end of
the prologue, she is joined by none other than Nathan Lane, in the title role
and almost unrecognizable in clown makeup and fuzzy wig. Gary is a clown pressed
into service as a maid to help with the clean-up in the bloody banquet hall.
And in his inimitable Nathan Lane way, he gets a laugh with his first line: “A
maid just enters and gets applause?/Best first day on the job that ever was”.
(Gary has a frequent habit of speaking in rhymed couplets.)
entrance, the curtain rises on Santo Loquasto’s incredible set, with its mounds
of corpses. One of the mounds, which we learn is made up of women and children,
is demurely covered. But center stage for all to see are the male naked and the
dead, wondrously created from what looks like muslin cloth but nevertheless
exuding the stench of violent death.
“Bit more of
them than I was expecting,” says Gary, who shortly is joined by the boss maid, Janice,
embodied with grand bossy relish and a limitless supply of double- and triple-takes
by Kristine Nielsen.
bickering about who’s in charge, Janice gets around to showing Gary how to
process the corpses, sucking out the blood, pumping out other fluids and
pressing away excess gas. A rhapsody of flatulence ensues, one of the various questionable
elements that director George C. Wolfe and his players turn into guffaw-getting
sequences. Among other such merry moments – really, truly -- are the attempts
of Gary and Janice to control White’s uncontrolled hysteria over a baby she
lost in the midst of the Titus Andronicus mayhem.
turns out that Mac has some serious stuff in mind as well. Gary isn’t content
with just being promoted from clown to maid. He yearns to become a fool. While
a clown “encourages the idiotic,” fools are “empathetic sorts who learn the
suffering of others.”
ambition is to save the world,” Gary declares. So, in addition to cleaning up,
Gary sets about to put together what he calls “a fooling,” a grand spectacle
that will entertain those in high places and cause them to abandon their
fooling,” embodying help from the great mime Bill Irwin credited with
“movement” and Danny Elfman’s original music, is indeed something to behold
with dancing corpses and swinging penises. It doesn’t accomplish what Gary
hoped, but, with the encouragement of a sympathetic Janice, it is at least seen
as a step forward, a good dress rehearsal.
undoubtedly gathered, Gary A Sequel is not your conventional Broadway
fare. So, it’s interesting to note how warmly the Tony Award nominators have
embraced the piece, with a total of seven nominations, including Best Play. George
C. Wolfe’s on-the-money direction also received a nod, and in the featured
actress category, both Kristine Nielsen and Julie White were nominated. Also recognized were Santo Loquasto for his jaw-dropping set design, Ann Roth for costumes and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer for lights.
fans can certainly feel miffed that he was passed over. Perhaps, the Tony
powers felt the three Tony Awards on Lane’s shelf or wherever, plus a bushel of
past nominations, were sufficient for one great comic treasure of the American
theater. Nevertheless, Lane should feel well rewarded with the array of laughs
he is getting nightly from this bold and unusual material.
the Booth Theatre
222 West 45th
212 239 6200
through August 4