By Lucy Komisar
Wildly funny and clever, this play by Taylor Mac, directed by George C. Wolfe is one a serious theater-goer cannot miss. It‘s a terrific campy surreal take on murderous war from the point of view of the workers who have to clean up the mess, the bloody bodies of Shakespeare‘s “Titus Andronicus.”
It takes only three actors, though the set requires some imagination. It should be produced all over the country!
In this case the kill is from the massacre of Shakespeare‘s probably most bloody play. “Titus Andronicus,” set during the latter days of the Roman Empire, is the fictional story of Titus, a Roman army general engaged in a cycle of violent revenge wars against Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Considering the gore of some of the Bard‘s plays, that is saying something.
The workers are two women, Janice (Kristine Nielsen) and Carol (Julie White) and a guy Gary (Nathan Lane), talking in rhymed couplets. All are terrific comic actors and accomplished Broadway performers.
Janice declares with a grimace, “Ya think this is me first massacre? Ya think I sat around idle on the Ides of March? Ya think the mangled man parts of Marcus Manlius just rolled themselves off the scene? Oh no.”
Someone had to collocate the duties, marshal the maids, assemble the scrubbers. And that someone was me. Time and time again.
The underlying story, of course, is reducing the problem of mass murder to the mundane task of disposing of the bodies.
Their speech labels them as cockneys, lower class, the same as the victims. The bodies are piled high, then transferred efficiently to carts.
They are the bodies of people killed in battle. People responsible for mass murder, today and in the past, don‘t give much thought to who will cart the bodies away.
The cleaners‘ job is sucking, blowing, and pounding the blood and the gas out of cadavers which are made out of life-sized fabric dolls. Pressing down on the forms yields noisy flatulence. Or maybe spurts of blood. Like a vaudeville joke.
Gary declares that “Cleaning is immoral… all you‘ve done is make it seem pleasant for the people making the mess.” He means the killing.
He accuses Janice of “shuffling girls, from play rooms to graves. So worried about taking care of the dead but not actually caring enough to do something about their dying.”
He declares: WE‘RE GONNA STAGE A COUP!
JANICE Lower your voice!
GARY The first is gonna be last…
And Janice, when the court sees it, they‘ll be a little taken back at first. They‘ll be a moment of silence, don‘t kid yourself. But then, in the distance, one soul will feel a bubbling finding its way to their hands. “What am I doing?” they‘ll wonder. “Why am I clapping?” And they‘ll realize. They’re clapping for hope. And soon it spreads. Not just one court member but two.
“ Then more. Row after row, gaining speed, soon all the court, the clapping turns to cheering, then standing on their feet, on chairs, reaching ever higher to touch the ingenuity that could be theirs as well. If two maids could turn the hopelessness of a massacre into a coup of beauty, they too can imagine a better world.”
Indeed, a work of the imagination, a fable brilliantly, cleverly presented. Alas, a fable.
“Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.” Written by Taylor Mac; Original music by Danny Elfman; directed by George C. Wolfe. Booth Theater 222 W 45th St. New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened April 21, 2019; closes June 16, 2019. Running time 1:35. Also on NY Theatre Wire.