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re: Gary--first performance thoughts
Posted by: tatanaz 11:34 am EDT 03/14/19
In reply to: Any Buzz on GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS? - Zelgo 11:12 am EDT 03/14/19

I’ll start by acknowledging that Gary is an extremely difficult play to try and talk about with someone who hasn’t seen it. Partly this is because Gary is so audacious and ambitious. The play asks a lot of intriguing questions—and pointedly doesn’t really provide a lot of solid answers. To some audience members, the play might seem like a mess—but that’s also kind of the point (in my opinion).

As you might expect, the play is very absurdist. The overall concept—servants cleaning up the bodies after the end of Titus Andronicus—works really well for creating a space to comically (and at times poignantly) explore power, massacres, power dynamics and gender, coups, the people left behind to clean up after the transfer of power, and the role of art. Perhaps most pointedly, for me the play asked us to explore the question: what should our response be—particularly as individuals—when the world is falling down around us?

In the end, Taylor Mac and company are largely successful at exploring these ideas. But the play could, nevertheless, benefit from a lot of tightening, particularly on this question of the role of art. Much of the plot focuses on Gary’s desire to put together a type of pageant using the dead bodies that will, if I understood correctly, somehow convince the citizens to give power to Janice (Nielsen’s character)—or at the very least understand the absurdity of power. A lot of that needs to be clarified in my opinion—and Mac may need to provide a bit more of a concrete and explicit POV. I’m cautiously optimistic that they can do it. Since this is a very absurdist comedy that vacillates between low and high comedy and is also more about the questions than the answers, there will probably be some vocal detractors with understandable criticisms. In short, this is going to be a divisive play. But I still really enjoyed Gary and was impressed by it’s sheer ambitiousness. And I was definitely entertained.

After various delays to the first performance following Andrea Martin’s injury, we accidentally ended up having tickets to the first performance on Monday night. Credit has to be given to Kristine Nielsen and Julie White for the relative success of their performances after less than a week’s rehearsal in these roles. This is a wordy play with multiple speeches and monologues for every character. While the majority of the dialogue is in prose, there are also extended passages in verse. Understandably, all of the actors were still really working through a lot of the comedy—and there were a few stumbles on dialogue by all. But the progress that they all had made by the first performance on Monday was impressive to say the least. Lane was Lane and quite entertaining.

And the audience was definitely on their side and rooting for both the cast and play. Despite some obvious issues at this point, the crowd was very supportive. On that note, I’m not entirely sure how Gary will ultimately play/read with less supportive audiences. At the end, the three came out to take their bows and Nathan Lane made a quick speech about how we were their first audience, and he graciously noted that Nielsen and White, who were visibly moved, had just started playing these roles last week. The audience loudly applauded and cheered them both, and Nielsen in particular became even more emotional. All three looked relieved to have gotten through the performance.

The timing wasn’t always working, but I did overall find the play to be funny. Not quite as funny as many in the audience, but that’s partly because a lot of the comedy is pretty literally scatological, which isn’t necessarily my brand of humor. But I thought the cast and play balanced the high and low comedy well.

The set by Santo Loquasto is fantastic and appropriately over the top. Danny Elfman’s score is fine but pretty non-existent. I’d be curious to know more about what components of the play Bill Irwin (credited with movement) is working on. I assume part of this is the choreography of the pageant that is performed near the end. Additionally, I can see Irwin being involved in Gary’s “clowning” at the beginning of the play. To be clear, Gary was a clown who has been momentarily hired as a “maid” but ultimately hopes to become a fool. It’s helpful to know a bit about the role of fools in Shakespeare’s plays.

I will also say that the play did engage a bit more with the world of Titus Andronicus than I expected. You don’t NEED to know Titus to follow Gary, but I’d argue that it would be beneficial to, at the very least, read a plot synopsis. There are some references and jokes that would probably make a bit more sense with some familiarity. MILD SPOILER: For example, White’s character (Carol) ends up being the midwife who delivered Tamora and Aaron’s baby but managed to survive Aaron’s attempt to kill her. Lavinia’s branches also make an appearance. END OF SPOILER

In short, I think that the play could use some edits to make a few things clearer. I have no doubt that the actors will all get more comfortable and that the comedy will get even better. But, as I mentioned earlier, I’d wager this will be a divisive play. But overall the play is so audacious and wild that I think it’s worth seeing/experiencing. I definitely intend to try and catch it again after opening.
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Next: re: Gary--first performance thoughts - mikem 01:23 pm EDT 03/14/19
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