Off-Broadway Review: "A Gambler's Guide to Dying"

Off-Broadway Review: "A Gambler's Guide to Dying"

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” – Narrator

In the Boy’s “first ever class in high school,” his Moral and Philosophical Studies teacher Mr. McTavish says, ““There are two guarantees in life – you are born, and you die.” In an electrifying and emotionally charged seventy minutes, Gary McNair explores the vicissitudes of the human experience through the engaging story of a young man (the Boy) and his grandad (Archie) who was “a cheat, a liar, an addict, a Hero, a storyteller.” He was also a gambler – one who might have been a candidate for a twelve-step program – whose journey is a trope for the wonder of winning through the rigors of risk-taking.

“A Gambler’s Guide to Dying,” the first installment in the 2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, is the remarkable solo show by Gary McNair a young master storyteller who not only has a keen grasp on rhetorical devices but also knows how to employ those devices in a solo performance. Utilizing the rhetorical triangle of ethos, logos, and pathos, Mr. McNair’s tale crosses generational lines to celebrate the enduring quest to live and make a difference between the time we are born and the time we die.

Mr. McNair’s storytelling is subtle in its approach skillfully using repetition and parallel structure to raise rich enduring questions about whether humans can do anything about the way things will happen in their lives. Under the judicious direction of Gareth Nicholls, Gary McNair commands every inch of the set with an authentic and believable performance. The audience members care deeply about the Boy and Archie and see in these characters their own struggles to “control” life’s randomness and chaos. 

In addition to narrating the story, Mr. McNair enacts the role of the protagonists – Boy and Archie – and Wee Mad Terry, Punters (solitary and numbers 1, 2, and 3), Roddy ‘Knuckles’ McGin, Rusty, Mr. McNair, and others. These well-developed characters have conflicts that drive an engaging plot that captures life’s comedic and tragic experiences and that connect to the audience in a deep and meaningful way. Everyone has placed bets on the present and the future. Archie’s style of betting gives the audience the opportunity to grapple with a complex character and appreciate “the complicated sum of his parts.” 

Gary McNair provides a fascinating guide to living and dying through the eyes of a gambler who – though at the close of his life had “no win, no money, no fortune, no glamour, no glory” – managed to teach the Boy the value of coming to terms with the realization that despite all we try to do to deny our mortality “we all must go.”

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” And perhaps it is all we need to have in a world that seems unable to hold on to its center.

A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING

The design team for “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” includes Simon Hayes (lighting design) and Michael John McCarthy (sound design, composer). The production stage manager is Fiona Johnston. Production photos by Benjamin Cowie.

Produced by Show And Tell, with support from Creative Scotland, Made In Scotland, and the Traverse Theatre, “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday April 23, 2017. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Please note there is an added performance on Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($20.00 - $24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission. Photo: Gary McNair in "A Gamblers Guide to Dying." Credit: Benjamin Cowie.

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