As director Emilie Whelan writes in her program notes, you don’t need to have seen the rarely performed bloodbath of a Shakespearean tragedy “Titus Andronicus” to enjoy Taylor Mac’s 2019 Broadway hit “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.” 

In the Bard’s “Titus,” set in ancient Rome, the eponymous emperor returns home from war with a few prisoners, who then wreak revenge upon him. Rape, mutilation and murder are the orders of the day; body parts are baked into a pie, served to the victims’ mother before she too is killed. Ultimately almost everyone dies and the palace is a shambles. How can the witty Taylor Mac resist imagining what happens next?

Gary (Jomar Tagatac) survives havoc and gets a promotion from court clown to clean-up man. (Photo courtesy of Ben Krantz)

Gary (the always wonderful Jomar Tagatac) is the court clown who fortuitously escapes the mayhem and is, as he sees it, promoted: to clean-up man. His steely-eyed coworker and co-survivor, the maid Janice (a bustling, hilarious Matt Standley in a black gown and a mop of flyaway grey hair), is in charge of preparing the bodies for disposal (cue an endless variety of fart sound effects and other disgusting activities) prior to the upcoming inauguration of the new emperor; the bodies themselves, which include the late Titus, consist of disorderly stacks of gray, faceless, life-size blow-up dolls, some with grotesque hard-ons.

Those first few scenes in the 90-minute play are the best, as the two servants vie for dominance, with the dreamy Gary, who often speaks in rhyming couplets, discovering his true ambition in life: to be not a bottom-feeder clown but a much more prestigious fool. (“Why ya rhyme?” gripes Janice. “So irritatin’.” The two speak in Cockney accents.) 

The squabbling and existential musings of these two lowly workers call to mind some of Beckett’s plays. “Ingenuity! Responsibility! Epiphany! All in one day!” the two agree. Their jubilant triumph over their appalling circumstances is poignant, even inspiring.  

Matt Standley navigates his role as the sour Janice very well. (Photo courtesy of Ben Krantz)

How great is it that the tiny Oakland Theater Project, under Whelan’s assured direction, is producing a play that seems to call out for more space? But Carlos Aceves’ scenic design, a haphazard spread of draperies and sheets of plastic on an odd-shaped stage, works well enough with actors as creative as these.

And it’s not just Tagatac who, equipped mainly with a mop and a clown’s beeping bicycle horn, fully inhabits his character, creating a winsome, upbeat charmer; Standley navigates his sour Janice through degrees of businesslike fervor, frustration and shy, girlish pleasure. And although the arrival of a third character, a traumatized midwife who has somehow managed to survive under a pile of dead bodies, feels almost like an unnecessary interruption to the engrossing interplay between the two stalwart workers, Regina Morones is terrific in the role. 

If “Gary” seems to slow down in the last half hour or so, it’s due not to Whelan’s direction but to Mac’s proclivity for audience interaction. You’re likely to be pressed into service by the actors: to sing a love song of your choice, stand on a chair proclaiming Shakespearean verse or maybe just hold a corpse on your lap.

Still, a surprise bit of audience interaction at the very end beautifully signifies the humanity inherent in Mac’s dark comedy—as well as in this small theater’s artistic heart.

“Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” runs through Oct. 1 at the Oakland Theater Project, 1501 Martin Luther King Junior Way, Oakland. Tickets are $20-$55. Call (510) 646-1126 or visit