ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shakespeare’s bloodiest play is “Titus Andronicus.” This is the one in which the rapists get killed at the end and baked into a pie and fed to their mother.
Strangely enough, “Titus” is so over-the-top that it passes from tragedy into a macabre sort of Quentin Tarantino-style comedy. In one scene, someone kills a fly and it sends Titus into a rage: “Alas, my lord, I have but killed a fly.” “But how, if that fly had a father and mother?” It can be a wildly funny play in performance, despite all the carnage.
Apprehending that strange blend of aestheticized violence and satirical comedy, contemporary playwright Taylor Mac has written a sequel to “Titus Andronicus,” and it is being performed at Fusion Theatre in a madcap production directed with precision and inspired lunacy by Laurie Thomas.
While Shakespearean tragedy – as “Titus” is usually classified – concerns the actions of royalty and nobility, Mac has set his play in a banquet hall where a couple of working-class survivors have the unpleasant task of cleaning up after the bloody coup.
The title character, Gary, is a professional clown who managed to save his own life by offering to clean up the mess in the banquet hall so it will be ready for the inauguration of the new emperor in the morning. He is joined by a professional maid, and for most of the play we watch the two bicker and play and vacuum the intestines out of corpses.
The show gets a boost when a third character, a midwife, joins the two about three-quarters through the play. The midwife believes she is in hell because she failed to save a biracial child whose coloring would have incriminated the empress Tamara – who wished her child dead – for having an affair with Aaron the Moor.
Actually, there is very little plot to speak of, and the most salient virtue of the production is the fine performances of the three actors – Bruce Holmes, Sherri L. Edelen, and Jacqueline Reid – who must balance difficult language, a plethora of stage business, and extracting a great deal of laughter from the audience by the skilled exploitation of comic characterization and rhythm.
A fourth star of this show is Robyn Phillips, the properties master, who not only acquired hundreds of fascinating props, but must put everything back in order again after every show so they can do it again. It’s a monumental task, and done with brilliant artistry.
“Gary” is not going to be to everyone’s taste. The play is an outsized theatrical panorama of a very ugly world. A clown who aspires to the more exalted position of fool, Gary believes – and perhaps so does Taylor Mac – that he can make a “comic coup,” as he calls it, to end the violent coups that plague our world. That dream persists through the ages, and the world rolls on as ever before.
“Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” is playing at The Cell, 700 First NW, Albuquerque. Go to fusionnm.org or call 766-9412 for reservations.