The Midtown International Theatre Festival
Most actors donít consider it a badge of honor to have cut their teeth on reality television, but most actors also werenít raised stringent, evangelical Baptists. For Joshua Rivedal, getting his professional start as a low-down galoot (with a 450-pound girlfriend!) on Maury Povich or as a victim of a Mafioso-turned-film director who was tricked into appearing on the short-lived AMC series FilmFakers, these escapades are his escape into the world of make believe heís always preferred to that of his staunch religious upbringing. But Rivedalís solo show describing his experiences, The Gospel According to Josh, playing at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, requires that you take far too much of this on faith, making Rivedall himself ó rather than what heís written ó the chief reason to attend.
For Rivedalís story to have the proper impact, you must believe both that he sees performing is his true respite from an untenable past and that in pursuing it he somehow conquered the unyielding father who held him back. Overall, Dad seems strangely supportive. Yes, thereís a scene early on where he spanks Rivedal with a belt, he insists Rivedal attend church, and disapproves of his sonís overeager making out with a girl at a party. But those are fairly typical ďbeing a parentĒ activities. And Dad does introduce his son to music and theatre with clips of The Ed Sullivan Show, indulges his desire to be a singer despite the family having very little money for lessons, and takes considerable pride even in Rivedalís rocky early professional ventures. Isnít much of this more supportive than suffocating?
True, the plot does eventually turn on Mom leaving Dad and Rivedal having to deal with the consequences of both the divorce and Dadís lingering disease and depression, but he shows so little of his parentsí relationship that this just comes across as curious. As does Rivedalís final confrontation with Dad, which could charitably be described as bitter. Rivedal may have finally ďwon,Ē but whatís his prize? Just from what Rivedalís included, itís impossible to know for sure. Considering the good things Dad did, this ostensibly triumphant moment comes across as more than a little ungrateful. To understand the depths of Rivedalís sense of accomplishment or betrayal, we need to know more than we do.
Running just 60 minutes, the play isnít long enough to cover more ground more substantial than Rivedalís largely unexceptional professional autobiography, and it doesnít give director Josh Gaboian much room to develop through lines in his staging. It is, however, enough for Rivedal to make a solid impression. A sly, rougher-edged Jesse Tyler Ferguson type, he possesses a strong boy-next-door likability and a surprisingly malleable singing voice that can handle hard rock, gospel, and musical theatre with equal aplomb (though you only ever hear brief snatches of any song). He displays, in whatever he does, all the qualities of his unusual family life: sincerity, rebelliousness, and a passion for revealing more of his soul than traditional propriety may dictate.
But if Rivedalís goal with The Gospel According to Josh is to explain exactly how and why he became the man he is, heís not entirely there. Without a better grasp on the people and ideas that shaped him, beyond amorphous concepts of unruly religion and its passionless practitioners, the show comes across as superficial and almost self-aggrandizing. Rivedal is genial and talented enough as a performer to make you want to know more about him, but that has to begin with his willingness to open up in ways beyond the expected. If Dad really was so bad, we need to see that; right now, it just seems that he gave his son far more than either realized, and though there could be a fascinating show in that as well, itís apparently not the one Rivedal intends.
The Gospel According to Josh