|Gary McNair in A GAMBLER'S GUIDE TO DYING. Photo by Benjamin Cowie.|
Written and performed by Gary McNair, A Gambler’s Guide to Dying is an entertaining recollection of the life of McNair’s grandfather, Archie, a man who was neither great nor simple, but who was a father and a friend, a liar and a cheat, a story teller and a hero to his grandson. And if nothing else, he was an inveterate gambler and “the kind of guy who chased a thrill. Just an ordinary guy with an ordinary life who was trying to make the world more exciting.”
McNair’s ruminations on his grandfather’s life begin with Archie’s big bet on England’s winning the World Cup in 1966 and culminate with Archie’s even bigger bet on his own life at the turn of the century. Along the way, McNair manages to use Archie’s life as a jumping off point to explore some of our most intractable philosophical problems including life, death and immortality, pre-determination and free will, time travel, luck and probability.
Unfortunately, McNair’s musings are more platitudinous than insightful. We are treated to such sophomoric thoughts as:
“…life’s a gamble.”
“There are two guarantees in life – you are born, and you die.”
“…until everyone IS dead, you can’t prove that everyone WILL die.”
“according to Sir Isaac Newton everything that has ever happened was always going to happen the way that it happened and everything that will ever happen will happen the way it will happen and there is nothing you can do about it.”
“You weren’t lucky to survive a stabbing. You got stabbed!”
“We’re always time traveling. It’s just that so far we’ve only worked out how to go forward.”
But if the play does not succeed as a thought-provoking philosophical exercise, it does succeed in capturing the essence of the gambler’s personality – the man who never can cash the big bet – and in reminding us of the extent to which our own immortality resides in our progeny and in their remembrances of us. And for my money that is more than enough to justify the play’s current staging as part of the Brits Off Broadway program at 59E59 Theaters on East 59th Street in midtown Manhattan.