Every now and then a theatrical experience comes around that breaks the mold. It’s no simple task to categorize Gideon Irving’s performance piece running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Part musical, part stand-up comedy, (very small) part magic act, and part intriguing night in a complete stranger’s living room, My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually is far from a one-trick pony. On the contrary, the hour-and-45-minute show is constantly surprising audience members with laughs, gasps, songs and even snacks!
Gideon Irving’s current production (the “ninth production of his first show”) deviates from his usual performance model due to the fact that it plays five-plus performances a week in the same location. Typically, Irving tours the country and world performing in the private living rooms of people he finds through a highly sophisticated system of maps. In other words, audience members scribble names, addresses and contact information on maps of the world, and Irving uses these suggestions to schedule entire tours in perfect strangers’ homes.
So far, Irving’s living-room performances have taken him to more than 504 private homes to perform his traveling one-man shows and sing his eclectic songs.
My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually is an autobiographical piece that blends song and storytelling from his numerous travels. Irving holds the audience captive with his unique and magnetic personality, weaving seemingly unrelated tales into a singular work that makes the audience feel connected and intrigued by Irving’s life. You get the feeling that the stories shared over the course of the evening only begin to scratch the surface of what Irving has seen and experienced.
Each song Irving performs is poetic, fanciful—and probably not like anything you’ve ever heard before. Like the entire show, Irving’s songs don’t fit into a certain genre. Each song is performed on a different instrument, which you’re probably not familiar with. The bouzouki, waterphone, shruti box, mbira, whirly tube and scacciapensieri (aka jew’s-harp) are all instruments that Irving has mastered and uses to create not just kitschy showpieces, but inventive and beautiful songs.
Flowery lyrics like “I was given the earth and the sky was implied” contrast with their accompanying song titles, such as “Hot Breakfast” and “Sea Lion Cow.” Bluegrass and folk are the styles that come through the most while listening to Irving's songs, but his passion and delivery of the lyrics give them a style all his own.
Many of his lyrics are staccato and seemingly incomplete thoughts that somehow, strung together, evoke an array of emotions. For example, “Oh up into the sea and a memory I see the sky it’s bloomin I show you that I have my fears and all of them go crashing by.” An even better example is the first song, which serves as an introduction and a “Turn off your cell phone” announcement. It’s sung entirely in gibberish, “Maiyokadestebi ochchasumiyay maiyo kadestebiyo bainabagi somo faima,” yet it’s oddly catchy.
Perhaps more impressive than creating songs on lesser-known instruments like the mbira is the way Gideon uses his body throughout the performance to add to the music. Slapping his chest and legs, stomping his feet and even donning a tambourine-foot, Irving uses everything at his disposal for multilayered, complex musical pieces.
Without giving too much away, My Name Is Gideon is an interactive show in many ways. The set is supposed to be Irving’s own living room, and with couches and beach chairs blending seamlessly onto the stage, it’s easy to feel like Irving really is just a friend hosting you at his house for the evening. His style of storytelling draws you in, makes you laugh, and never feels forced or scripted.
The set, designed by Silovsky Studios, seems to act as a second character in this one-man show. What first looks like a hoarder’s home, with every surface covered with “junk” and lit by hundreds of Christmas lights, is actually a masterpiece in itself. It’s filled with odds and ends, secret compartments, and surprises at every turn. The set may make adults squeal in glee like a child watching Peter Pan fly on Broadway for the first time.
The show’s final act brings things full circle and is the one part of the evening where audience members are keenly aware that they have been watching a performance. The sudden shift in mood is palpable and powerful.
My Name Is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventuallyruns through Dec.11 at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with these exceptions: no performance on Thanksgiving Day but an additional performance at 7:30 p.m. the night before, on Nov. 23, and 7 p.m. curtains on Dec. 3 and 10; matinees are at 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets may be purchased online at OvationTix.