There is no one more deserving of an “A for effort” than Josh Rivedal. He wrote and stars in an ongoing one-man show about his life in which he sings and acts as a variety of characters, and he performs without inhibition. It’s the kind of show that people really want to love.
Unfortunately, Rivedal’s show, “The Gospel According to Josh,” was awkward and uncomfortable. The show was held in a drab classroom in UC Berkeley’s Evans Hall on April 16, which was crammed with desk-chair hybrids that conspicuously outnumbered the audience members. It quickly became apparent that everyone who came — all six or seven people — did so at the behest of one person, who presumably coordinated the event.
Rivedal began the show with a song about religious obedience, which he sang in character as a church leader with the kind of effeminate lisp insensitive people adopt when mocking a man’s sexuality. Rivedal’s exaggerated and somewhat inappropriate portrayal of the man was overpowering in the far-too-intimate classroom setting, and it set off “The Gospel” on the completely wrong note.
The rest of the performance was equally awkward, punctuated by meager, forced laughter at Rivedal’s cheesy jokes and amateur acting. It then ended, rather abruptly, with him learning of his father’s suicide and resolving not to follow in his footsteps (all with a melancholic piano piece playing in the background). The audience responded with half-hearted applause, which was made even more pitiful by the much more enthusiastic cheers of Green Day fans that echoed out of the Greek Theatre.
The show’s saving grace was the suicide prevention presentation that followed. Rivedal imparted useful information in a respectful way, and the presentation itself would have been appropriate and meaningful without the show as a preface. Instead of singing and character-acting, Rivedal could give a short speech about how his father’s suicide affected him and then present his information about suicide — it would probably be more effective than the entirety of “The Gospel” as Rivedal performed it.
On the other hand, if “The Gospel According to Josh” simply ended without the suicide presentation, it would be much easier to critique. The show itself is somewhat aimless — it begins with the story of Rivedal’s highly religious upbringing, a subject that remains unresolved at the end of the piece — and the comedy isn’t clever or all that funny. Without the noble message, the show is comparable to a warm-up exercise in a high-school drama class.
But there is a noble message, and Rivedal is trying his hardest to spread it as widely as he can. To his credit, he approaches his father’s suicide in “The Gospel” very tactfully if not well. He uses the performance to acquaint the audience with his life, which ensures the subject of suicide isn’t imposing or intimidating for people who might be uncomfortable hearing about it. In a way, “The Gospel” is an icebreaker of sorts for the real discussion, and in that sense, it sort of works.
Suicide, of course, is a tough subject to approach under any circumstances, and Rivedal’s presentation could be extremely helpful for people who might not understand the warning signs of suicide. Rivedal covers it all — isolation from friends and family, loss of interest in formerly beloved activities, the obvious but often overlooked threat of suicide outright — and provides phone numbers for suicide prevention hotlines.
However, the mediocrity of “The Gospel According to Josh” as a theater piece undermines Rivedal’s real purpose, which would be better served by an independent speech — and even then, the information is easily found elsewhere.