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Gary McNair
Photo by Benjamin Cowie.

For such a young man, Gary McNair is dispensing insight and wisdom far beyond his years. McNair, with the help of director Gareth Nicholls has brought his autobiographical story of literal unbelievable odds to the stage in A Gambler’s Guide to Dying. The solo play, currently at 59E59th Theater through April 23rd, kicks off the 2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival.

The astute Scotsman begins by asking what is arguably one of the most profound questions of human existence: How do you measure a life? It is not, as the late Jonathan Larson once wrote , “In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.” For McNair, it goes much deeper than any of those. The subject of his play is his now deceased grandfather and although he would admit to idol worship, McNair is smart enough to realize that the assessment of his kin is both biased and possibly flawed. This doesn’t prevent him from relaying a beautifully universal tale about our views of the people we hold dear.

McNair’s  grandfather, Archie, began his gambling career at the tender age of 7 and, as an adult, he has encouraged the tradition in an 11 year, Gary. “I’m not sure I should be gambling,” the young lad advises. “Look, son. Life’s a gamble, ” replies Archie. As an adult, Archie makes an incredible bet in the 1966 Soccer World Cup which propels him to a continued obsession with the next bet—and the one after that- until his death.

Photo by Benjamin Cowie.
Photo by Benjamin Cowie.

In 1998, Archie is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and, according to the doctor’s prognosis, is only given a month to live. In true gambler’s form, he bets that he will live to see the new millennium.  Did he make it?  To reveal too much is to disclose the show’s best reveal.

In addition to the insightful life lessons McNair includes in this excellent work, he also raises an interesting theory about addiction. So often, it is maligned and vilified. What if, however, it actually saved a life rather than increasing the odds of a shortened one. In no way do I personally condone addictive behavior, but Gary McNair does prepare a compelling case for addiction as an unexpected life saver.

59E59th’s Brits off Broadway festival continues through July 2nd. If the rest of the festival is as good as A Gambler’s Guide to Dying,  it’s a safe bet that critical acclaim and overwhelming enthusiasm will follow.

A Gambler’s Guide to Dying is now through April 23rd @ 59E59th Street Theater, between Park and Madison. For tickets and info, click here.