Neil Tobin is a warm, funny man. He’s welcoming and doesn’t have a hard time putting people at ease. It’s a good quality to have in general, but especially important if you’ve chosen to take on a subject matter like death, like Tobin has for his one man show Neil Tobin, Necromancer: Near Death Experience. It’s a touring show fresh out of Indy Fringe Fest that has landed in the historic May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery. His goal? To face a scary subject and discuss it while also displaying feats of sleight of hand…and necromancy. It’s an interesting concept in the right hands, and certainly a haunting (and reportedly very haunted) setting for such things.
The singular focus of the show is a feat in itself, and Tobin’s format seems consistent–talk a little about his macabre subject, tell a little story, and keep us glued to our classic wooden pews. Stories run the gamut from the tale of the African god Kwoth, who holds the cord that connects heaven and earth and the hyena who tried to buck the system to the true story of the car crash that changed a young George Lucas’ life. At times, it’s almost a sermon rather than a show piece, with talk of resolutions for the “bonus time” we are all enjoying and the various ways we grow up defying death and later denying its inevitability.
The “magic” element of the show shifts from standard bar magician fare to that of a more Houdini-esque, necromancer sort of shtick. You’ll see Tobin do a standard rope trick and then before you know it, move to something like attempting “clinical death,” ostensibly by stopping his own heart for a minute or two. Going from Saturday night restaurant magician to communicating with the spirits of the dearly departed presents a bit of tonal trouble, and neither side of the coin particularly shines. Even a standard illusion presented with enough charisma and an interesting angle can take off, but we didn’t quite make it off the runway in this show, as Tobin seemed to have a hard time consistently capturing enough of the crowd’s attention to not reveal some of the tricks of the trade.
I can appreciate the unique place and approach that Neil Tobin’s trying to take with Near Death Experience—using his preferred medium as a way to open people up to the experience of talking about an uncomfortable subject. I applaud this effort, and my time spent at the show wasn’t wholly unenjoyable. Since it’s a solo act though, I’m not sure I can recommend it, as it seems to lack enough presence and prestidigitation for its asking price. Near Death Experience will play at May Chapel at Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood, on select Saturdays and Sundays in April and May. You can purchase tickets to the show here.