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New York | 1h 10m | Already closed

A Gambler's Guide to Dying

From 19 critic and 13 member reviews
Members say: Thought-provoking, Funny, Delightful, Entertaining, Clever

About the show

Show and Tell presents a solo show about a granddad who won a fortune in 1966 and, when diagnosed with cancer, gambled it all on living to see the year 2000. Part of 59E59's annual Brits Off Broadway festival. More…

'A Gambler's Guide to Dying' is an intergenerational tale of what we live for and what we leave behind. Gary McNair's award-winning solo show opens in New York following highly acclaimed runs at Spoleto Festival, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Adelaide Festival, and London's off-West End.


“A stunning and original one-man show…This is one to experience. It is a dramatic, yet humorous and touching account that traces the life of a compulsive gambler...This is an intriguing story about a man who chooses to live by his own rules. Gary McNair's solo performance is absolutely superb…The creative team has done a great job of bringing the show to the New York stage…‘A Gambler's Guide to Dying’ is an ideal production for its intimate performance space.” Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Electrifying and emotionally charged...A remarkable solo show by Gary McNair, a young master storyteller who not only has a keen grasp on rhetorical devices but also knows how to employ those devices in a solo performance...Under the judicious direction of Gareth Nicholls, McNair commands every inch of the set with an authentic and believable performance...These well-developed characters have conflicts that drive an engaging plot that captures life’s comedic and tragic experiences." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“There are a few self-conscious moments when the monologue falters, especially when McNair's tale reaches too hard for higher meanings couched in inspirational language. On the other hand, you'll probably recognize the way we all burnish in memory even the more tarnished parts of a beloved late one's existence. If you're looking for a Scottish-accented, well-written, and feelingly performed solo play, 'A Gambler's Guide to Dying' is a pretty sure thing.” Full Review


"McNair has real stage presence. Endowed with a sturdy physique and a well-modulated voice that is colored with a burr, he effortlessly holds his own as he seamlessly shifts from one character to another. What's more, he has written a fluid monologue that is a mix of prose and poetry interspersed with Scottish folklore and popular culture...The street language of the Gorbals works to advantage here and keeps the riff from becoming a sugar-coated eulogy." Full Review


"Odds are, you’ll like ‘A Gambler’s Guide to Dying’...McNair does double duty as both writer and performer, adroitly alternating between grizzled gambler rationalizing his addiction, and rapt grandson regaled with tall tales of long odds. Wistful cosmic ruminations, 'Tuesdays with Morrie' style, and an emotional ending soliloquy are interspersed with deadpan dry Scots humor." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"We instantly feel the desire for writer and performer Gary McNair to let us into his grandfather’s life and backyard...McNair keeps the story simple and funny, filled with sentimentality and touching portraits...He’s an excellent storyteller, just like his grandfather. It’s a bit light on the bigger meanings of the world, but the idea of what is the ‘best bet’ is a solid emotionally centered idea...It’s very personal and deeply moving for McNair and for us." Full Review

Off Off Online

"A charming, featherweight tall tale that glides along on the winning rapport McNair creates with the audience...If he doesn’t possess the technical precision of a Jefferson Mays or an Anna Deavere Smith, there is still a warmth and clear regard for each character...McNair’s nameless narrator is dynamic and engaging, but he is also an unknowable hollow at the center of the play. This makes sympathy or understanding difficult, which may be the play’s ultimate message." Full Review

Woman Around Town

"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...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." Full Review


“‘To some he was dad, to some he was mate,’ says McNair at the top of his monologue. ‘To others he was liar, cheat, addict, hero, storyteller.’ Over the course of the next 70 minutes, McNair will also do, with modest effects and a modicum of success, other voices including his much younger self, a schoolteacher, mates of Archie's, and even his own mother. Through it all, the one thing we never lose sight—or sound—of, is his love for his grandfather.” Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"It's certainly a story one hasn't heard before, but for some reason, it doesn't really catch fire. McNair's text focuses on the boy and his grandfather, yet doesn't succeed in bringing their world to life. I never quite believed the boy's attachment to his eccentric relative, who didn't seem to deserve it. As a result, the piece is more of a curio than an engaging coming-of-age story set against the background of a beloved relative's almost excessively long good-bye." Full Review

Let's Talk Off-Broadway

"McNair brings athletic vigor to the part...I appreciated McNair’s range and energy, and the passion with which he wanted to tell the story and wanted us as viewers to fully appreciate the novelty and wonder he saw in the granddad. Still, Granddad did not turn out to be an interesting enough character to carry the show...There isn’t much suspense...The grandson’s belief that granddad was a 'great man' comes across as a strained attempt to end on a high note." Full Review

Broadway Baby

for a previous production "This beautiful and witty account is eloquently acted by McNair…His acting is consistent and truthful, never overdoing it. His script’s use of comedy to diffuse tension is superb and his comic timing is perfect. He has us in stitches one moment, shedding a tear the next. Gareth Nicholls’ direction is excellent: never is a moment overdone, nor are we ever bored by a lack of action from the lone actor...A touching and heartfelt story of a child’s relationship with his dying grandfather.” Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production “A genuine pleasure–a beautifully written, deceptively simple, warmly comic piece that accumulates layers of meaning through the act of storytelling itself…It is both a celebration of the act of storytelling itself and a sly reminder that fiction and truth are hard to distinguish from each other…It exposes the unreliability of memory and the gap between what we know is true and what we want to believe is true...Audiences who secure a ticket will feel as though they’ve hit the jackpot.” Full Review

British Theatre Guide

for a previous production “The stories of an optimistic fantasist are all great fun. However, just when you imagine that McNair has written nothing more than a witty shaggy dog story, he changes tack to something closer to an existentialist vision of life…While some of the lightness of tone remains during the rest of the 65 minutes, the play begins to look at far more serious issues through sadder eyes…A moving performance with real heart.” Full Review

Edinburgh Guide

for a previous production "McNair segues in and out of multiple characters in the telling of this tale, each of them sharply drawn...but the abiding presence is McNair’s grandfather...It’s in the space between diagnosis and ultimate demise that McNair’s play becomes something more than the sum of its parts. The affectionate portrait of a loved relative broadens to include all our human tribe and our baffled incomprehension at the fate that awaits us all...This is a treat you ought not to miss." Full Review

Three Weeks Edinburgh

for a previous production "We open with Archie Campbell cheering Geoff Hurst’s ‘they think it’s all over’ goal...His grandson loves to hear the story and, as we visit moments of him growing up, we learn more about the two, both portrayed by the excellent Gary McNair, who also wrote the play...The title doesn’t suggest hilarity but there are laughs aplenty in a warm tale about the relationship between a boy and his granddad, the nature of stories, memories and the inevitable time when, finally, it really is all over." Full Review

Post and Courier

for a previous production “‘A Gambler’s Guide to Dying’ delivers the most where it needs to, in heart and humor, give or take a heavy-handed rumination about the meaning of life. With bountiful comedy and compassion, McNair unfolds the life story of one man, for better or for worse, revealing the magic that it surely was...The actor and playwright has the audience firmly in the palm of his hand...I’d wager that you’ll walk away from this congenially soulful show chuffed at your good fortune.” Full Review

What's On Stage (UK)

for a previous production "It's beautifully done, though the short seventy minutes sag a little. Gags are repeated and there's a sense that all that has to be said has been said after half an hour. McNair, however, keeps it interesting through the lightness and technical excellence of his performance. And I particularly respond to his thesis of loved ones living on in the memory even more vividly than they did in life itself as a way of softening the blow of dusty evanescence." Full Review

The Stage (UK)

for a previous production “A tale that has its share of mordant laughs. The story doesn't really find its meanings until the final moments…Gary McNair is a stronger writer than performer, and while he finds all the laughs and brings an undeniable authenticity to his tale, his thin voice and unimposing stage presence add little, and most of the piece's power might come through just as fully in reading the text.” Full Review

Funny, Delightful, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if you like storytelling, love British football, ever lived in the UK, or just want to be absorbed in a very true-to-life narrative

Don't see it if you have trouble with Scottish accents, don't like storytelling (think: 70-minute Moth story on steroids), hate small theater/one-man shows

Also One young Scotsman tells the story of his grandfather's life and legen... Read more Read less

Funny, Nostalgic, Tender, Bittersweet, Compassionate

See it if you enjoy a story about a relationship between a grandparent and grandson maturing over a number of years

Don't see it if you have trouble understanding a heavy Scottish accent

Heartfelt, Slice of life, Onehander, Memory-piece

See it if One man's remembrance of his endearing, exasperating grandfather told from a young teen's point of view. Charming & funny, some lines were..

Don't see it if ...lost due to McNair's heavy Scottish accent. Not new territory but a very personal prism on what makes a good death for patient & family.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing, Slow

See it if Gary McNair's solo show spans generations, and makes the art of storytelling an unforgettable experience, with slow moments at times.

Don't see it if if you do not consider storytelling a valuable art of communications, and hate one character plays

Clever, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Entertaining

See it if You like short, one person shows, in a small theater.

Don't see it if You're not interested in stories about a young man spending time with his dying grandfather.

Also Nice story told very lovingly.

A poignant solo show

See it if You enjoy a good solo show about family relationships.

Don't see it if You hate solo shows

Enchanting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Inspiring, Touching

See it if One man show about a relationship between a boy and his dying grandfather. What matters most during this time?

Don't see it if You don't want to further appreciate the dying process. I had some trouble understanding the Scottish accent and humor.

Thought-provoking, Entertaining, Storytelling

See it if You would enjoy a solo performance telling the partly true story of a Scottish grandfather as he nears the end of life.

Don't see it if You have trouble with Scottish accents.

Clever, Masterful, Confusing, Dated, Entertaining

See it if Someone who appreciate the chance of gambling.

Don't see it if Some one who is not into the game of chance.

During previews
Absorbing, Clever, Delightful, Great acting, Resonant

See it if you like short, one-man shows that are pure storytelling. A sweet look at the relationship between granddad and grandson.

Don't see it if you don't like one-man shows, small venues, or a lack of action. It's a story. The stage is tiny. The set is minimal.

Also This show was a very sweet telling of a story by a grandson about his ... Read more Read less

During previews
Funny, Delightful, Thought-provoking

See it if you enjoy a well acted one-man show that is humorous but also deals with interesting issues about life and death

Don't see it if you want a production with a big cast and fancy set design.

During previews
Thought-provoking, Low-key, Good storytelling

See it if you enjoy a good yarn with insights into living and dying. McNair's script mostly works. His acting and the simple staging are adequate.

Don't see it if you want a polished performance. But there is charm, wisdom, and humor. Occasionally the story drags, even at a mere 70 minutes.

Also McNair should get a haircut or should tie his hair back. He ends up pu... Read more Read less

During previews
Funny, Original, Enchanting, Masterful, Touching

See it if You want to be totally charmed by a masterful, funny, enchanting actor in a beautifully performed piece of theater that will warm your heart

Don't see it if You don't care to hear a heart-warming family story that spans generations ... And you don't like to laugh or be touched.

Cast & Creatives (8)