By Donna Herman
There’s no doubt about it. “My Name is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die Eventually” is a charming and entertaining evening. It’s a solo show by, you guessed it, Gideon Irving, who invites us into what he claims is his home. Sure, I’ll play. I know it’s the stage of The Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, but I believe that a lot of the stuff up there belongs to him personally. It’s looks like a crammed studio apartment, and Gideon plays the gracious host and shows us around. It’s clear from the beginning that he’s kooky and irreverent which is just what we’re here for. We’ve been promised music and laughter and a different take on the world from someone who has performed 504 shows in living rooms on 6 continents. No heavy lifting after the last couple of weeks sounds like just what the doctor ordered.
What Gideon delivers best is his music. There are 15 songs in the evening, only one of which was written by a 5-year-old he met on his travels. The rest are pure Gideon. His melodies are folksy and blue-grassy, with elements of African rhythms. And his voice is resonant, with a surprising range that takes him to the stratosphere when he hits his falsetto. He plays an impressive array of instruments from the pedestrian guitar, to the merely novel combination of a banjo in his hands and a bear claw on his foot, to a unique Civil War field organ, a bouzouki and a Dombra Jew’s harp. I believe he plays 15 instruments in all.
My favorite however, was the acapella “Texty Texting.” Using his voice in a kind of sing-song manner with his hands beating an inescapable rhythm on various parts of his body, it was a primer on how and when it’s appropriate to text. According to Gideon, the only thing texting should be used for is addresses, phone numbers, directions and sexting (if you’re out of town). No declarations of love or other emotions, no real conversations, and no cancelling plans! A man after my own heart, and perhaps with the same fat fingers as mine….
The problem here is that I’m not sure Gideon’s show translates to a theater venue. In someone’s living room, a few laughs, some quirky rambling stories that may or may not be real, and some great music that you’re seeing from 5 feet away, with 15 other people, is going to feel like a magical evening. Intimate and revealing on a visceral level. Especially if, as I understand usually happens, the audience hangs around and everybody schmoozes, asks questions and drinks wine afterwards.
It’s a different experience in a theater with a stage and lights that separate audience and performer. In this setting, the performer is understood to have something of value to impart to an audience. An idea, a message, an observation, a different way to see something. Gideon needs to craft his show differently for a traditional theater space. Interestingly enough, the show needs to be a little more personal. Gideon needs to open up a little more. Where is he coming from? Why is he doing this? What has he gotten out of it? Are the people different out there? We’re not having the experience that answers those questions so he needs to explain it to us. That’s why we’re in the theater, but I wasn’t sure he knew that.
I get why he’s there. He’s feeling the love and doing whatever he wants. Ah the joys of a solo show. But it’s a two-way street in theater town. And although I had a pleasant evening, I walked out feeling a little empty. Turns out I was looking for a little light lifting after all. Who knew?
“My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die Eventually” by Gideon Irving
WITH: Gideon Irving
Artistic consultant, Ewen Wright; stage manager, Rebecca Guskin; scenic designer, Silovsky Studios; costume designs by Alice Tavener; lighting design by Stephen Terry; sound design by Daniel J. Gerhard; properties master, Casey Alexander Smith. Presented by All For One Theater, Michael Wolk, Artistic Director, Nicholas A. Cotz, Producing Director. In Association with Richard Jordan Productions. At Rattlestick Theater, 224 Waverly Place through December 11th. Tickets: 866-811-4111 or by visiting https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34239