The hangover from the Tony Awards invariably means a handful of struggling shows close after failing to secure any wins, and the first of this season’s also-rans to call it quits is Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.
Taylor Mac’s bawdy political farce set during the fall of the Roman Empire will play its final performance this Sunday, producer Scott Rudin announced today, truncating a limited engagement that originally was scheduled to run through Aug. 4.
The play was a bold proposition for Broadway, from an iconoclastic theater-maker with a very downtown sensibility. Mac, a Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, used the messy aftermath of Shakespeare’s most gruesome bloodbath to ponder who cleans up the carnage of a corrupt political regime and the importance of creating art out of chaos.
The production was nominated for seven Tonys, including best play, best direction for George C. Wolfe and best featured actress for Kristine Nielsen and Julie White. In one of the more unjust quirks of the awards season, lead actor Nathan Lane was overlooked by the nominating committee despite carrying the unconventional show on his shoulders with tremendous comedic verve and underlying notes of tragedy.
Appearing on the Tony Awards telecast Sunday night in fabulous drag regalia created by regular costume collaborator Machine Dazzle, the gender-nonconforming Mac pointed up the play’s contemporary relevance without the need to directly reference the current White House administration.
“When mass shootings, immoral leadership and escalating revenge are everywhere, how do you cope?” asked the playwright. “Spoiler alert: I don’t have the answer!”
Critics were mixed on the play, though most welcomed its outlandishly campy subversiveness as a tonic in a Broadway landscape that too often sticks to commercially safe ground. At the very least, it will go down in history as the first production to put a kickline of centurion corpses with bobbing penises on Broadway.
But in a crowded spring, the play struggled at the box office from the start, never earning much more than 50 percent of its gross potential and dropping to just $211,093 last week. Cumulative box office to date after 13 weeks at the Booth Theatre is $4.2 million. When the run concludes Sunday, Gary will have played 45 previews and 65 regular performances.
The early closing marks the second Rudin production of the 2018-19 theater season to shorten its limited engagement due to underwhelming ticket sales. The gender-blind revival of King Lear starring Glenda Jackson, originally scheduled through July 7, played its final performance last Sunday.
However, Rudin’s losses on those productions are offset by the phenomenal business of To Kill a Mockingbird, which earned Celia Keenan-Bolger a Tony for best featured actress in a play Sunday night. Aaron Sorkin’s Harper Lee adaptation has not played to a single unsold seat since it began performances late last year and is now the top-grossing American play in Broadway history.
Last week, Mockingbird hit a new high of almost $1.9 million, the kind of number usually reserved for musicals. The show’s cumulative grosses to date stand at $48.5 million.