NEW YORK — British mentalist, magician, and psychological illusionist Derren Brown has brought his famous London show across the pond to Broadway for a limited run to the great white way. I confess, I walked into this show more than a little skeptical. Yes, I enjoy watching shows like Now You See Me or Penn and Teller just as much as the next person, and I have seen the clips for this show, but how was I going to get through two and a half hours of it? How many plants would there be in the audience? And just how much can one read from the minds of others?
As I walked into the Cort Theatre, one of my favorite things may have been the sign that states the show may contain haze, strobe lighting, and subliminal messages. The stage was simply set, with a spotlight on a single chair and brick walls all around. As the lights went down and a video played to introduce Brown, I could tell I was in for quite a show.
And indeed, Brown is a master showman. He is the first to admit this. Brown pulled people from the audience, showing that magic, mind reading, and psychological manipulation is simply just the way we tell ourselves stories in our minds. As someone with a doctorate in psychology, I am no stranger to this concept. And yet, I found myself easily falling victim to the way that a stage can be set up so that I can miss very large details right in front of me, how I can be easily giving away secrets that I hope I conceal, and how I can be dumbfounded by what may in fact be simple.
There are of course always the questions of if everyone is playing along, if the audience is full of plants, if he is cheating and tricking. My theatre-going companion actually got called up as part of one of his demonstrations, and I know she was not a plant. My companion and I also have our suspicions about how it was done. I am reminded of one of my favorite quote from Harry Potter in book seven when he asked Dumbledore if all of his near-death experience was in his head, and Dumbledore responds in the affirmative but then asks, “why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
The audience is asked to fill out cards with a question for Brown, something only they would know. These cards are placed in black envelopes and drawn at random. Other audience members are called up on stage, and Brown would do some more of his act with them. There was more opportunity to participate during intermission, and it was by far the most interactive event I have attended in the theatre.
There is much more that could be said about the performance, but Brown asked specifically that it not be revealed. As a person who enjoys the heightened excitement of live theatre, I do appreciate the joy of a well-thought-out surprise, so I am inclined to maintain the secrets that Brown has asked of his audience members. Just know that there is an interesting conversation about the word, “secret,” but a fascinating twist as to why the show is called, Secret. Brown and his team worked hard to put together an entire production that was quite entertaining. Besides my initial skepticism of the subject as a whole, I also wondered how my attention could be kept for a full two and a half hours, but it was also not a challenge. Brown is doing a limited engagement, so if any of my readers are traveling to NYC soon, I encourage you to check it out. If not, he does tours or other specials where you might be able to have this experience for yourself. It was a stretch of the theatrical for me, yet Brown may have been one of the most polished and skilled performers I have ever watched. He was impeccable in his timing, and his ability to connect with the audience was unmatched.