By Martha Wade Steketee
Performer Gideon Irving claims he surfs couches as a professional house guest in exchange for his intimate performances. In fact, he’ll survey the audience for future places to hang his hat for the night before the performance concludes. You arrive with the logical expectation that something out-of-the ordinary may be in store — the title of the show itself, My Name is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually, and the well-worn walk-up stairway to the Rattlestick playing space is adorned with a wild array of oversized paper lanterns. A do-it-yourself visual sensibility spreads everywhere. This vocally resonant and musically inventive program is built on Irving’s warm and generous personality that envelops the guests in the theater space the design team has modified to be Irving’s “home.”
You are offered warm and loving sustenance in many forms during this intermissionless evening of song and stories. The tunes are all by Irving (save the creation “Sea Lion Cow” created by his young friend Bella Fratkin when she was five years old). He accompanies himself on instruments that are sometimes recognizable (such as banjos and a small “field organ” used on early 20th century battlefields and encampments) and often are not (there are gourd instruments with metal prongs and instruments that involve pedals and keyboards and bagpipe-like bellows). Irving’s voice is perhaps the most important and lasting calling card of this show, with its huge range and rich tones, with which he accompanies himself on each instrument with wondrous nuance and ululating resonance.
Silovsky Studios has crafted a scenic design-as-playground out of the West Village Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre that believably could allow Irving (as he claims, perhaps in jest) to live in for the duration of his run. The existing single bathroom in the far upstage wall, unavailable during performances as Rattlestick familiars are aware, would be convenient to anyone treating the performance space as a large studio apartment. The usual raised stage has been removed so the wood planks of the floor extend to the back wall of the space, level with the first row of audience seats which is now comprised of beach chairs, couches, bean bags and a single leather lounge chair complete with ottoman. We’re quite literally ringing a performance in a living room, much like the performances Irving holds in homes around the world.
In our theatrical apartment funhouse (Pee Wee and Captain Kangaroo will occur to those of a certain age), magic things appear from time to time to eat and to play with, all of which surprise and enchant. The lighting by Stephen Terry utilizes fairy lights, floor lamps, and spots that appear where needed, both light-hearted and responsive to direct requests by the performer (“a little more blue here”), and sweetly at Irving’s service.
Gideon’s tunes include titles like “Hot Breakfast,” and “Tuna Song.” Bits that I won’t reveal are also listed in the fun-loving program you’re handed when leaving the theater. Come with an open heart. Heart, head, stomach, and sense of humor are filled and thrilled by this production.
My Name is Gideon: I’m Probably Going to Die, Eventually. Through December 11 by All For One Theater at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). Running time 100 minutes with no intermission. www.mynameisgideon.com
Photos: Maria Baranova