A naked corpse is peeing in Nathan Lane’s face. He wipes it clean, and the pale makeup he wore as a clown before becoming a royal coroner goes, too. Bodies are piled sky high on stage at the Booth Theatre, where Taylor Mac’s ingenious and outrageous Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus opened tonight. Much like a rigor-mortis golden shower, it is morbid and hilarious, poetic and gross, deeply absurd and born of undeniable urgency.
Prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s bloodiest tragedy isn’t necessary for this follow-up, which picks up where the Bard left off in 1594 and feels more alive to the present than most anything on Broadway. The mounds of carnage on stage — intestines spilling over, limbs akimbo like so many flesh-colored stuffed animals — is enough to tell us shit has hit the fan. A tyrannical emperor and his evil kin (plus a handful of bystanders) are kaputz. An unflagging maid, played by Kristine Nielsen, expertly preps cadavers for the grave. Lane’s Gary has been ordered to quit clowning around and help clean up.
But it’s after all the blood has spilled that the real fooling begins. Mashing up a menagerie of forms and traditions, from farce and theatre of the absurd to Brechtian self-reference and the bawdiness of National Lampoon, Mac conjures a hyper-stimulating experience unlike any other. Maybe as much was to be expected from the queer bastion of downtown avant guard — who goes by the pronoun “judy” — crashing the party uptown for the first time. Gary is the kind of explosive art — wild, riotous, sharp as a dripping dagger — that comes at the height of rotting empire, like the one grown fetid in Titus. And it’s speaking to the one we live in now.
Mac’s verse (which rhymes at times, driving Nielsen’s character to distraction) is performing a sort of jig on the grave of civil society. A Trump-gold banquet hall turned mausoleum is set to host the succeeding emperor’s inauguration; in the meantime, Lane and Nielsen are the have-nots questioning the systems that led to this mess in the first place. The wealthy hoard their riches while the poor starve; men destroy each other and unleash their rage on women, power gets passed around over the people’s heads and for what? Mac’s dexterity in weaving such social indictments into a madcap comedy rife with fart gags and dick jokes is a wonder to witness.
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.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar
photos by julieta cervantes