Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus

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Photo: Julieta Cervantes Review
Do good things always come to those who wait? That’s a question posed both in and by “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” now at the Booth Theatre, which marks the long-awaited Broadway debut of Taylor Mac, the much-lauded MacArthur Fellow and former Pulitzer Prize finalist. There can be no denying that Mac possesses a wicked wit, a penchant for philosophy, and a go-for-broke attitude, but Mac hasn’t found the right recipe for melding these disparate ingredients in this 90-minute exercise in absurdism, busily directed by George C. Wolfe. What emerges often tastes simultaneously overbaked and undercooked.

Admittedly, during many sections of the show, the laughs pile up almost as fast as the numerous dead “bodies” already piled on stage as the curtain rises. (The extraordinarily clever set is by the great Santo Loquasto.) The near-constant talk about male genitalia, disgusting body functions, and juggling pigeons can’t help but make you guffaw. But then this tomfoolery stops for discussions on how a “fool” is better than a clown, or how theater can change a world gone mad for the better, or how women have been mistreated through history. And instead of your funny bone being tickled, your head is being scratched.

Fortunately, for both Mac and the audience, no one can deliver a barb, a tirade, or comic physical business with the expertise of the play’s three stars: Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen and Julie White. In the show’s title role, an inept street performer now promoted to “maid” – in order to help clean up the bloody aftermath of Rome’s most infamous revenge – Lane serves up another expert lesson in how to portray a sad clown, the tears sometimes barely hidden behind the smile; the occasional mania alternating with the sudden depression. If you’ve never seen him do this kind of role, it’s a true treat; otherwise, it can feel just a bit too reminiscent of his work in “The Nance” and, especially, “Waiting for Godot” (in which he co-starred opposite the great Bill Irwin, credited here as the show’s movement director.)

Nielsen, originally slated to play White’s role, stepped in during rehearsals for the injured Andrea Martin. But one imagines that the part of Janice, the no-nonsense maid who eventually lets her proverbial hair down, has been re-tailored for her; it fits like a custom-made toga. She mugs and bellows like no one else on Broadway, and Wolfe gives her ample opportunities to show off her schtick. But Nielsen is more than a mere comic wonder; when she softens (for example, in an unexpectedly lovely speech that pays tribute to her slain former mistress, Lavinia), she can practically break your heart.

As the crazed, thought-to-be-dead midwife Carol, White delivers the show’s quasi-poetic prologue with peerless panache, and then disappears for about half the show. Thankfully, she not only returns, she almost singlehandedly resurrects the proceedings. (By then, the Lane-Nielsen exchanges have begun to feel tiresome in that Beckett-like way). Her line readings are deliberately and hysterically over-the-top, but, perhaps even more than her co-stars, White finds the actual humanity in her character, who is ridden with guilt with “surviving” the murderous massacre while failing to save the baby she was asked to deliver.

True, the sequel is rarely the equal, but comparing Shakespeare to Mac is a true (and unnecessary) “apples to oranges” scenario. The bigger issue here isn’t that Mac doesn’t live up the genius of the Bard, but that “Gary” simply may have needed more time to ripen.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen, Julie White

Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/21/2019
Closing 6/16/2019

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/11/2019
Closing Open-ended

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Theatre Info
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036