Gary McNair’s granddad was, depending to whom one spoke, a dad, a mate, a liar, a cheat, an addict, a hero, a storyteller. “He was the kind of guy to chase a thrill.” Every week starting at age seven, McNair was secretly taken to a betting parlor by the colorful relative whose reputation included winning “a fortune” when England was victorious in the 1966 World Cup (Soccer). As a Scotsman, this meant he had to collect in disguise. “Only the Scotts could feel we suffered the greatest ever defeat when we weren’t even playing.”
How much did he actually win back then the boy wonders and, living in “poor surroundings,” what did he do with it? Granddad regaled the boy with “Big Fish” tales. In one, he falls into a river and comes up with a salmon in his mouth. In another, Sir David Attenborough walks into the pub just as a wildlife argument needed to be settled.
The pair had a wonderful relationship. Bets increased exponentially. Loses were shrugged off. “Life is gambling.” Rush of expectation was thought to be more important (and beneficial) than any outcome. This seems possible. Less successful classroom arguments about destiny bring up chance, risk, and will. When Grandad gets cancer, he bets his life savings on surviving past prognosis into the new millennium. His behavior during this time takes us through the rest of the show.
This is the kind of small, bittersweet story that O. Henry might’ve written with more economy and effect. As a play lasting over an hour, it needs to be more lively. Details of the bookies, fellow betters, and other tall tales might’ve helped. McNair plays all the roles with only a squeaky voice to differentiate. Not that it matters. He’s focused and sympathetic, but the piece is extremely slight.
Director Gareth Nicholls manages to move his sole actor with variety and casual purpose. Pacing is fine.
I have mixed feelings about the constant music and sound effects upon which the piece is performed. Some of it carries mood and cushions, some distracts. Sound Designer & Composer – Michael John McCarthy
Photos by Benjamin Cowie
A Gambler’s Guide to Dying
Written and Performed by Gary McNair
Directed by Gareth Nicholls
59 East 59th Street
Through April 23, 2017