By Christopher Popple
Tim McDonough shuffles onto the stage, dressed conservatively. The first time he speaks, his voice is soft and wispy, giving off the feeling that he’s addressing us from a different plane of existence despite being right in front of us. We start our journey where every journey began: the garden of Eden. As Mr. McDonough discusses scripture, he gets sidetracked thinking about gardening and the inevitability of his own death. Apparently, death has been on his mind as of late, and he presents us with a handful of hilarious and depressing scenarios in this irreverent ninety‑minute show.
From dying during a day out in New York City to dying onstage and receiving a standing ovation, “A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die” throws ideas at the wall to see what sticks. The show plays out like a dreamlike odyssey. It’s sometimes difficult to remember how we got from point A to point B, but the route doesn’t matter. Some of these scenarios have Mr. McDonough rapid‑firing jokes at the audience, while others are philosophical observations about mortality. These tones and themes never once clash with each other. The writing is sharp, funny and honest. Nearly every line is quotable and purposeful, and not for a second did the show’s long running time feel stretched thin.
Early on in the performance, Mr. McDonough points out in a tongue‑in‑cheek way how narcissistic chronicling his own death might be perceived. He is especially aware of how aggravating it might be for an audience to watch him drag out his passing. Mr. McDonough’s perception of death comes from his life experience, specifically his acting career and his chronic feelings of isolation. We know of death, but we cannot comprehend it. The only thing that we can comprehend is life, and how we live molds our view of our own demise. In acting, you understand where you’ll begin and where you’ll end, thus it is through acting that Mr. McDonough can “give an honest performance of [his] death.”
Mr. McDonough, despite grappling with death for a good hour and a half, is rather animated and full of life. Without rest, he moves, gestures and even exercises across the stage, and his face is more expressive than a cartoon character’s. There is never a dull moment in his routine, whether it involves jumping around like a schoolboy or waxing philosophical in his imaginary deathbed.
This spirited performance ties into what is perhaps the greatest takeaway of “A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die.” Our protagonist says that he wants to “die full of life,” and that when he dies, he wishes for his heart to be the last thing to leave him. He wants to die “with passion in his heart and wanting to live.” Mr. McDonough’s journey isn’t about dying; it’s about going out living.
What makes Mr. McDonough a brilliant artist is how he draws from personal experience to speak to the human condition. I didn’t just learn about him; I walked away thinking about my own life. As Mr. McDonough says, “we all die knowing we are alone, and knowing we are not alone because we all die.”
“A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die” is witty, challenging and cathartic. Tim McDonough creates order from the chaos of his life, reclaiming what nature has barred from us: a sense of finality, but not necessarily a sense of closure. At the end of his performance, Mr. McDonough walks into the “void,” murmuring to himself before going completely silent. We don’t know how he will eventually die, but we know how he’d want to die, and I think that’s more important.
“A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die”
Written and Performed by Tim McDonough
October 21, 2019 at 9:00 PM
Photo credit: Charlie Watts
2019 United Solo Theater Festival
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
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CHRISTOPHER POPPLE is an aspiring writer living in New Jersey. He graduated Monmouth University with a degree in English with a Concentration in Creative Writing. Alongside his career and collaboration with All About Solo, he works on various writing projects in his free time.