When it's the end of the world, sometimes all you can do is laugh.
Same advice applies when you're a lowly clown who's tasked with cleaning up mountains of bodies after Shakespeare's bloodiest massacre — bring on a bit of levity.
In the tradition of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, where we see what happens to the two messengers in between the scenes of Hamlet, Taylor Mac's Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus picks up immediately after the slaughter. (Don't remember the Bard's play? Don't worry, there's a SparkNotes rundown in the program.)
Except now, the Roman general Titus is simply another torso on the pile. Even most of the servants have been sliced up, leaving Gary (Randy Pearlman) to pitch in and help head cleaner Janice (Karen Parrish) sort, de-garb, and drain the corpses.
Justin Locklear's set matches the play's cartoonish vibe, bolstered by the dozens of dead guys created by props designer Cindy Ernst Godinez. And we know they're guys because....well, we just really, really do.
Loftier goals appear as Gary and Janice decide that cleaning's for suckers, and why shouldn't they become the new rulers? People for the people, and all that. Just as they're picking up steam, in pops midwife Carole (Brandy McClendon Kae), whom we briefly saw bleeding from the neck at the beginning of the play.
Her wound has coagulated enough to survive, though she's tortured with guilt about not saving her mistress' illegitimate baby from the carnage. But soon she's pulled into Gary and Janice's plans, which Gary has now expanded into a "fooling" that will, indeed, be a finale audiences won't soon forget.
Pearlman, one of DFW's most prolific actors, is obviously having a blast being gross, gauche, and goofy. KDT artistic company member Parrish serves up solid straight-man energy, though as the 95-minute show progresses she leans into Janice's hidden desires and summons a strength that's as gratifying as it is interesting.
Kae's Carole is like a puppy, easily led and excited to just be around people — it's a terrific foil to the ghoulish twosome.
Tim Johnson's direction regrettably misses the mark at times, with certain physical gags stretching on way past the point of funny. Even the fooling is a mish-mash that could have had twice the impact if only its pieces had been strung together more clearly.
But hey, in the grand scheme of life and death it's a small quibble. Because when the dust settles, that's all we're left with. Death comes for us all in the end, but here's hoping yours is a little more dignified.
Kitchen Dog Theater's production of Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus runs through April 3 at the Trinity River Arts Center. A professionally filmed version of the play will be available for streaming ($15) during the final week of performances, March 31-April 3.