WHAT "Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus"
WHEN | WHERE Through Aug. 4, Booth Theatre, 222 W 45th St.
INFO From $39; 212-239-6200, telecharge.com
BOTTOM LINE Taylor Mac may have a message, but it gets lost in humor fit mostly for teenage boys.
A 14-year-old near and dear to me says of all the new plays on Broadway, the one he most wants to see is "Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus." It's the high body count that intrigues him, but wait until he finds out the Taylor Mac play at the Booth Theatre is heavy on fart jokes and other bathroom humor — pure catnip for an adolescent boy. As for the rest of us, the search for meaning (not to mention entertainment) in this high-concept farce requires serious contemplation.
The A-list cast (Nathan Lane, Kristine Nielsen, Julie White), directed by George C. Wolfe, certainly gives everything they've got to this odd tale set in the immediate aftermath of Shakespeare's most violent tragedy. In the title role, Lane plays a servant charged with cleaning up the bloody mess — emphasis on bloody. He quickly gives up on recapping events leading to the massacre. "Long story short," he says, "most everybody dies." There's more to it than that, so basic knowledge of the source material is advisable. (Wikipedia will suffice.)
Nielsen plays Janice, another servant who teaches Gary the finer points of dealing with the corpses, gross work that involves sucking out bodily fluids via a rudimentary system of tubes. A manic midwife (White) joins the fray, blood periodically spurting from her slit neck.
This loony bunch never quite gets it together as they toss bodies (or just parts of them) about Santo Loquasto's set, piled high with corpses displaying more male genitalia than I ever expected to see on a Broadway stage.
With thick cockney accents (odd, since they're supposed to be Romans), they fight over all kinds of stuff — who's in charge, how to pronounce emperor and, oh yeah, the message Mac is actually trying to get across about how to improve the human condition. They're all very funny, mostly relying on physical comedy to compensate for verse that often doesn't make sense. Lane wears a fright wig and toots a horn a la Harpo Marx to bring on the laughs, but Nielsen's bauble-tossing striptease falls flat.
Ultimately, it's 95 minutes of weirdness and somehow not as funny as you want it to be. While tempting, it's not right to blame the last-minute cast shuffle brought on when an injury forced Andrea Martin to drop out. The real problem is that the genius of Mac (a MacArthur grant recipient and Pulitzer Prize finalist) gets lost in a tsunami of full-frontal distractions, pie-in-the-face slapstick and anachronistic baby shark gags. Gary himself makes the perfect point. "You can't see anything," he says, "but its ridiculousness."