Review: Unsure What to Think about “Gary”? Don’t Worry, So is Everyone

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Two years ago we had Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House Part 2.” This season, Taylor Mac, who uses the pronouns Judy/Judy/Judy’s (if that’s too much for you to handle you had better stop reading here), took on a similar gargantuan task and created “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.” For those unfamiliar, Titus is Shakespeare’s goriest drama of Ancient Rome, which includes rape, decapitation, murder, cannibalism, and a slew of dead bodies — which is exactly where Gary comes in, both figuratively and literally.

Titus includes a brief cameo by a clown, who is quickly condemned to death. Here he gets a name, Gary, and his own sequel after he barters for his life in exchange for janitorial duty, thus becoming a maid tasked with cleaning up all the dead bodies. Nathan Lane is our Gary and plays him as a ridiculous cockney clown who is equally existential and immature; he oscillates between musing on performance genres to flirting with corpses.

He is joined by Janice, a lifelong maid played by Kristine Nielsen. Janice is bitter and strict about her job, unhappy about the newcomer, his lack of experience, and his refusal to take his task seriously. Eventually a third member joins the group, a midwife who survived a throat-slashing and was hidden among the massive pile of dead bodies that dominates the stage (Santo Loquasto’s set includes pyramids of naked corpse dummies in a Roman banquet hall). Julie White plays the crazed Carol, who throughout remains at a hilariously frantic scream.

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It is quite unclear what exactly happens in the 90 minutes that is “Gary,” or what style it is supposed to be, or if we are supposed to take it seriously. It jumps between philosophical monologues about democracy and autocracy, extended bits of scatological humor, reflections on the violence of the plot of Titus (particularly the horrors done to Lavinia), intellectual jokes that require a deep knowledge of Shakespeare and Roman texts, and a pageant performed by corpses.

Taylor Mac is known for extravagant and experimental work, and if that is what you are looking for, “Gary” does not disappoint. But if you are coming for composure and coherence, this is likely not the show for you. Much like the dining room of corpses, this play feels a bit overstuffed. That being said, it is a delightful and hilarious piece, albeit one that is quite overwhelming. What are we to make of “Gary”? I’m not sure, but I don’t think interpretation is really important here, it’s all about the experience.

Thankfully, the cast ensures that this experience is for the most part enjoyable. Lane is, as always, a master of comedy, and here he embraces the absurdity of the role. Nielson is probably the weakest of the three, but deserves points for an unexpected role change when Andrea Martin had to leave the production right as previews began. White is superb, and although she has the smallest role, she is absolute the highlight of the night, and helps the piece soar in its final third.

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Director George C. Wolfe had a difficult and daunting task with this play, and it does not seem like he really rose to the occasion. Often it feels like the strangeness of the play got the better of him, and the actors are left to fend for themselves among the bodies, attempting to make sense of the wildcard that is the script.

What I will say, however, is that Broadway is perhaps the wrong venue for this piece (and maybe for Taylor Mac in general). Judy’s work is too out there for Broadway audiences paying Broadway prices. “Gary” is a bizarre work of art, one that certainly deserves to be seen, but not in a traditional venue like the Booth Theatre. But if you are looking for one of the most unique Broadway experiences you’ll ever see, give “Gary” a shot, but be warned: there will be blood — and penises, and intestines, and severed limbs, and fecal matter, and just about everything else that you might be imagining (and quite a few things you would never imagine). Prepare to be confused and shocked, but mostly importantly, prepare to laugh at the all of the “fooling” around.

Written by

Theater Critic and Queer Blogger. Vassar College alum, currently working toward a PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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