November 26, 2016

"My Name is Gideon: I'm Probably Going to Die, Eventually" is as Cutesy as Its Title

There's no question that Gideon Irving is a really talented guy. He's been blessed with an ingratiating stage presence, a plangent singing voice and an irrepressible love of music in the Paul Simon mode, which means that all kinds of sounds fascinate him and he delights in playing (quite well) instruments ranging from a Greek bouzouki to an African mbira.

But there's also no question that My Name is Gideon: I'm Probably Going to Die, Eventually, his one-man show that is playing at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater through Dec. 1, is really self-indulgent.

It runs for an overlong one hour and 45 minutes without intermission and unspools like an anything-goes vaudeville show. It takes place on a cluttered set that purports to be a replica of Irving's home but that is filled with surprises. However, there's no storyline or shape of any kind.

Instead, Irving tells stories, performs magic tricks, does a little bit of ventriloquism, sings a bunch of folk-ish songs he's written and engages in a lot of audience participation, including handing out flowers at the beginning of the show and asking people to throw them back at him during the curtain call. Periodically, he holds up applause signs.

The songs are pretty but intentionally abstruse. Part stand-up routine, part performance art, My Name is Gideon comes across as though a clever college kid were showing off for his buddies.

And it may indeed have started out that way. Irving says he's traveled around the world doing over 500 performances in people's homes, often sleeping over in their spare rooms, on their couches or in a sleeping bag on their floor (click here to read a Q&A in which he talks about those experiences).

A version of the show made its way to this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where it was a hit. And the folks at the performance my theatergoing buddy Bill and I attended seemed to love it too. Two women seated in front of us laughed so hard at Irving's antics that Bill and I wondered if they might have been supportive aunts.

But people like me who prefer shows with structure and purpose may not be as charmed. Irving, who's the son of Mandy Patinkin, is 30 years-old and I'd like to see him do something less puerile. His dad's pal Taylor Mac takes a similar grab-bag approach to his work but uses his talent and eccentricities to explore matters of substance. Irving has the goods to do the same.

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