When the curtain rises to reveal what’s on stage in “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” the sight is as hilarious as anything you are ever likely to see in a theater. Piled ceiling high are more corpses than you can count, dummy casualties of many walks of life from the bloody killings made memorable in Shakespeare’s most murderous play. They are piled in a huge mound and stuffed just about everywhere. It’s the combined work of scenic designer Santo Loquasto, costume designer Ann Roth and the vision of director George C. Wolfe. The total effect heralds the kind of sick humor one encounters in this go-for-broke play by Taylor Mac.
What a bloody mess to clean up! And who is around to do it? Nathan Lane as Gary and Kristine Neilsen as Janice, two who are devilishly expert at broad comedy and can keep an audience in stitches. Gary, given a throaty voice and expert timing by Lane, has been a clown but he longs to elevate his station by becoming a Fool. When Gary and Janice get down to the task of preparing the bodies for disposal, the play is a hoot.
Janice schools Gary in the methods. She sucks out blood through a hose. She digs for the inner organs. And there is the need to remove gas by pressing on the stomachs of the corpses. This gives rise to a mass of noisy farting, with Gary letting go one of own, much to his momentary embarrassment. At one point the penis of a corpse sprays liquid into Gary’s face.
That’s not the only liquid that squirts. We also meet Carol, a midwife gone bonkers, who had her throat slit and is wandering around bemoaning that she could have saved a baby. Julie White, another delightfully adept at comedy, makes the most of that absurd part, and when liquid squirts out of both sides of her neck, the image is devastatingly funny.
Playwright Mac isn’t only interested in low, slapstick comedy, but mixes philosophizing about the state of society and against war, mainly through Gary, who at times breaks into tears and often dispenses his worldly comments. Points are strikingly made, although in the context of such a madcap comedy, the serious moments tend to grow a bit wearing.
As for the comedy itself, it also can wear thin, as keeping up the broad, crazy stuff is tough to do. Yet every so often a scene erupts into show-saving hilarity. There is a multitude of flopping penises, severed heads, corpses being tossed about, detached limbs, climbing over the dummy bodies, all happening along with the ribald dialogue spewed with intensity. At one point there is even a chorus line of dancing male corpses with their bouncy penises.
Such slapstick is not for everyone but those who appreciate bawdy comedy will find plenty at which to laugh—and very often. Mac quite ingeniously has built upon the bloody mayhem of Shakespeare’s play, and used the gallows humor as a springboard for the more serious things he wants to say. One gets the message about the need for a better world, but still, the over-the-top humor is what one mostly comes away with, as well as admiration for the smashingly entertaining cast. At the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 10, 2019.