Review: Taylor Mac's "Gary" finds hope and humor on a pile of corpses


Nothing says Broadway like a succulent red curtain.

But look closer: this one, designed by Santo Loquasto, is not just red. It is blood red speckled with filth and dazzled with sparkling rosettes.

Welcome to the world of "Gary: a sequel to Titus Andronicus", where carnage and camps coexist – if not exactly at peace, but in a constructive dialectic.

Taylor Mac's new play, which opened Sunday at the Booth Theater in a production starring Nathan Lane, is the least resembling bird that has ever landed on Broadway for many years. Just like Mr. Mac himself at the end of "A History of Popular Music of 24 Decades," his epic revision of American culture, he is fabulous and upset: a provocative and magnificent clutter.

Mess is both the aesthetic and the subject of "Gary", which takes up the story of "Titus" shortly after its finale, among the most dramatic in dramatic literature. You do not need to know Shakespeare's play to understand "Gary"; when the curtain rises on George C. Wolfe's production, you see his result. Mounds of corpses rise to the sky from the frozen floor of Titus' banquet hall.

Or perhaps it is driven by the need of actors to connect with the public. Mr. Lane and Mrs. Nielsen, natural clowns, sometimes weigh too much on the clown side, to the detriment of the madman. (Mrs. White escapes this trap beautifully.) And yet, the room is not as funny as you'd expect. Even if the blood is obviously wrong and the corpses are cartoons, it's hard to keep both your sense of humor and your horror engaged.

So for me, at least, the most convincing and powerful moments are those where the performances are aligned with the gravity of the place. Gary's speech on the power of the art of creating new realities was one of those moments for Mr. Lane: you could feel hope in the hyperbole he was talking about.

Another was Janice's monologue about the amazing habit of man's survival: "You take things not to see what you've dropped / To start again even before you're arrested." Spoken (like many of the rest of the play) in rhymes Couples, these lines draw to Mrs. Nielsen a pathos who honors their Shakespearian model.

I do not know if "Gary" will last as long as "Titus Andronicus" – a piece that I do not like, but that has been going on for more than 400 years. I do not even know if "Gary" will last a month in the hostile ecosystem of Broadway. But, strange bird or not, I'm glad it's here. Everything is not perfect, it's true, and everything is not bad.

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