Nothing says Broadway as a luscious red show curtain.
But look closer: This one, designed by Santo Loquasto, is not just red. It is blood red spotted with filth and bedazzled with sparkly rosettes.
Welcome to the world of “Gary: A follow-up to Titus Andronicus”, where bloodbaths and camps coexist – if not exactly in peace, then in a constructive dialectic.  Taylor Mac’s new game, which opened on Sunday at the Booth Theater in a production starring Nathan Lane, is the most unlikely bird to land on Broadway for many years. Like Mr Mac himself at the end of “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”, his epic review of American culture, it is amazing and bedraggled: an exciting and beautiful mess.
And so, in what amounts to a philosophical vaudeville performed by Gary and Janice, we get sketches showing the elites’ wildness, proles perceive, the dreams of dreams. Then the properties are relocated. Soon, the battle lines are drawn between them, regardless of any class, who would try to save the world but fail – the comedians, that is – and those who will not try at all: the tragedies.
A third character complicates class considerations. Higher-born than the others – under the name of Cornelia she is mentioned as a midwife but is not seen in “Titus” – Carol ( Julie White) speaks in a BBC advertiser’s tones. (Gary and Janice are cockneys.) And while she is dying spurting blood with reciting the play’s prologue, she returns in time to support Gary’s dream of recalling the horror around them as provocative political entertainment. Janice, afraid of retribution, resists this project, which Gary calls a “trick”.
We’ll see it; You can describe “Gary” as a game where we get to see everything. I’ll just give you three words to mulla: Dead Penis Dance.
But seeing everything, but wonderful that can be as a moral proposition, is a difficult thing to rise. And signs of constantly conflicting extremes are almost impossible to act.
Here, “Gary” is fun in a way that I don’t think it wants to be. I do not mean in their design, which suitably puts gore in wonderful. How wonderful – after his somewhat different work on “Hi, Dolly!” – to see that Mr. Loquasto made lots of corpses in Baroque sculpture. How smart, of all periods, Ann Roth could have chosen for her atmospheric costumes, that she stopped going late Elizabethan, as if “Gary” was the midnight show after “Titus” at Rose. The tall, rippled wigs (by Campbell Young Associates) are punch lines in themselves.
But even though Wolfe does everything in his great power – he is also a maximist – to draw the look and the argument together, the argument continues to wander.
Or perhaps it is chased by the players’ need to join the audience. Mr. Lane and Ms. Nielsen, natural clowns, sometimes press the clown side of the equation too hard at the expense of the fool. (Ms. White beautifully avoids this trap.) But still, the game is not as fun as you hope. Although the blood is obviously false and the body‘s characters are difficult to keep both your humor and fear confused at once.
So for me at least the most convincing and powerful moments came when the performances were adapted to the gravity of the premise. Gary’s speech on the power of art to create new realities was such a moment for Mr. Lane: You could feel the hope of the hyperbolic he was talking about.
Another was Janice’s soliloquy about the stupefying man’s habit of surviving: “You choose things not to see what you’ve lost / To start over before you even quit.” Spoken (as much of the rest of the game) in rhymed couplets, draw these lines from Ms Nielsen a pathos honoring their Shakespearean
I do not know if “Gary” will be as long as “Titus Andronicus” – a game I do not like but who has been hanging in more than 400 year. I don’t even know if “Gary” will be a month in Broadway’s hostile ecosystem. But weird bird or not, I’m glad it’s here. Not everything is perfect, and not everything is messy.