‘Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus’ runs at the Booth Theatre through Aug. 4. 222 W. 45th St., garyonbroadway.com.
Bring out your dead: Nathan Lane has come to sever the limbs, pump out the intestines and mop up the blood. Along the way, he will also make farting noises with a horn and engage in long-winded, existentialist “speechifying.”
Lane — who won his third Tony Award last year for his impressively ominous performance as Roy Cohn in “Angels in America” — has made a quick return to Broadway in “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” an oddball, gross-out, buddy comedy written by the gender-bending performance artist Taylor Mac (“A 24-Decade History of Popular Music”).
It picks up immediately after the conclusion of “Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare’s gory, rarely-performed, Roman tragedy. In case you were wondering, it is not necessary to have read or seen “Titus Andronicus” in order to understand “Gary,” although a basic familiarity with the plot is helpful.
Andrea Martin, who was slated to co-star, suffered injuries during rehearsals and has been replaced by Kristine Nielsen (“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”), who was already part of the cast. In turn, Tony winner Julie White (“The Little Dog Laughed”) has taken over Nielsen’s former role.
Following a puzzling prologue delivered by White (in which blood randomly gushes out of her neck) and a brassy musical interlude (composed by Danny Elfman), the circus-style curtain opens to reveal a banquet hall consumed by a towering mound of mannequins, representing the casualties of the all-out bloodbath at the end of “Titus Andronicus.”
Gary (Lane, sporting a Cockney accent, heavy makeup, wig and tattered attire) enters and explains that he is a street clown who has been hired to help a maid named Janice (Nielsen, with bulging eyes and aggressive energy) clean up and sort out the bodies in time for the imminent inauguration of the next Roman emperor. As it turns out, the previous emperor can be found among the bodies.
At first, Gary is excited to have received a promotion. Janice walks him through the physically demanding job and they briefly recount the events of “Titus Andronicus.” In time, they begin musing about the state of the world and their place within it.
Directed with old-fashioned panache by George C. Wolfe, “Gary” proves to be an intermittently amusing but primarily bewildering experience — like a five-minute vaudeville sketch that has been uncomfortably stretched to 95 minutes.
Were it not for Lane’s participation, “Gary” might have premiered instead at the Public Theater or another Off-Broadway venue open to its combination of Shakespeare, physical comedy and sincerity.
One can’t help but admire Lane’s willingness to take part in an unpredictable new work instead of another revival. He gives an absolutely committed performance as a sad and sensitive clown/struggling everyman while being backed by two superb comic actresses.
It is worth noting that “Gary” follows another recent sequel to a drama from long ago, namely Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” One can only imagine what other sequels might come next.