Tuesday, March 13, 2018

REVIEW: Near Death Experience starring Neil Tobin, Necromancer Select Dates Through May 6, 2018

Chi IL Live Shows On Our Radar:

Near Death Experience starring Neil Tobin, Necromancer
By Catherine Hellmann, guest writer 

Photos by Jonathan Cohon, Prism Studios, unless otherwise noted

“Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die.”

As Neil Tobin opens his fascinating one-man show with this line, he poses the question, ”You were expecting light, escapist entertainment? Did you read the program?” Immediately, the audience expects a theater-going experience unlike any other.

The location for this limited-run show certainly sets the stage, literally. Held at the beautiful Rosehill Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Chicago at 350 acres, many prominent Chicagoans are laid to rest here. (My friend and I also saw six deer among the tombstones on our walk prior to the show.)

Performances are presented at Rosehill Cemetery in historic May Chapel, built by noted architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee in 1899 and rarely open to the public. (Photo: Jonathan Cohon)

While this may sound morbid, well, okay, it kind of is, Tobin’s point is to celebrate the life we have and make the most of our time here on earth. By having his performance truly “close to death,” the audience is reminded that we can be whisked away from this world at any time; we must appreciate this life and make a resolution to live it fully.

The unusual locale for this unique show is a treat. The May Chapel
is exquisite and rarely opened to the public. Built in 1899, the mosaic floors, carved oak-beam ceilings, and glorious sun streaming through the lovely stained-glass windows remind us that there are so many undiscovered places to explore in our beloved city. Go just to see the Chapel and the “bonus time” is a show. (Tobin has a curious routine that encourages us to make the most of our “bonus time” in this world.)

Just what the heck is a “necromancer”? According to Merriam-Webster,
it is the “conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events.” Don’t worry---it is not a creepy seance you will be witnessing. No Ouija Boards are involved in the making of this show, either.

Tobin has routines on every day cultural references to death, like the kids’ game “Hangman,” horror movies, ghost-hunter stories on television, and the ubiquitous fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants which can predict our futures. (Tobin addresses the fortunes in cookies with gravitas, but we know how silly they can be. For instance, my favorite was my teen daughter recently had the hilarious fortune: “Keep your expectations reasonable.” While I told her this
is true, she felt ripped off by her lame future.) 

Tobin raises very thought-provoking observations on society, and our denial of death. In Victorian times, cemeteries were treated like parks, with families having picnics while honoring their ancestors. (Imagine telling your kids today that instead of Montrose Beach, you are taking them to Graceland…there is so much great Chicago history just north of Wrigley Field.) People began to fear death instead of accepting it; hence, the striking change in grave markers from monuments to flat headstones. Tobin also asked how many audience members have a will. There was a small scattering of hands, and he said that was typical of most Americans to not be prepared about the inevitable.

Being a magician, Tobin does have some tricks up his sleeve. (ba dum ching!) It doesn’t seem fair to reveal all of his material and ruin the surprises. While the subject matter and locale may suggest morbidity, Tobin’s message is to be life-affirming. 

Near Death Experience starring Neil Tobin, Necromancer is recommended.

Neil Tobin’s Near Death Experience has a limited run (as do all of us!) at May Chapel: Sunday March 11, Saturday April 14, Sunday April 15, Saturday May 5, and Sunday May 6. All shows begin at 3:00 and last an hour. Tickets are $25-$30 and are available at

Carpe Diem! 
(“This message brought to you by Latin, the official language of death.”--Neil Toban.) 

"RECOMMENDED ... Neil Tobin weaves magic into the show as he guides us on a journey to understanding our views on death and what could come from reshaping them. Most of the magic will leave even the most skeptical among us pondering what they just experienced ... Near Death Experience is perfect for adults who love interactive and site-specific theatre that makes you think. " — Picture This Post

"Tobin doesn't give us The Answers, but perhaps better questions ... meanwhile, we get to marvel at sleight of hand and sleight of mind, delivered with appropriately dark humor. Recommended ... your bravery will be rewarded." — Plays With John And Wendy

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