Tuesday, May 16, 2017

9. (2017-2018): Review: DERREN BROWN: SECRET (seen May 13, 2017)

“It’s How’d He Do It Time”

I almost called this review “The Atlantic's Got Talent,” since Off Broadway’s respected Atlantic Theatre Company is taking a breather from its usual focus on plays and musicals to present a mentalist act of the type you often see on “America’s Got Talent” (and, presumably, its British original). That, however, does nothing to diminish the head-spinning impact of the routines performed by Derren Brown, a charming British chap who offers two hours and 40 minutes of mind-boggling mental mischief.

 You may, in fact, find you have more to discuss with your theatergoing companion(s) afterward than following a standard play or musical. I saw it on the Saturday matinee before Mother’s Day, and my wife and I were still talking about it on Sunday at our family gathering, where we couldn’t help describing the highlights to everyone else. All you can think of after a show like this is “How’d he do it?” Just be prepared to argue for or against your ideas without losing your temper. 
Derren Brown.
I can’t offer any opinions here, though, mine or others, since Brown requests that reviewers keep secret what he does in this show. If you want a good idea of Brown's skills, I advise you to begin by checking him out here and then looking at his many YouTube videos. 

Brown, a trim, attractive fellow in his mid-forties, appears in Act One tieless, in a well-tailored, three-piece brown suit. In Act Two, he wears a white tie and tails. His set, designed by Takeshi Kata, and lit, mainly with a bluish hue by Ben Stanton, is little more than faux-brick walls. Directors Andrew O'Connor and Andy Nyman, who wrote the script with Brown, keep the action moving briskly. 

Much of his act depends on using audience members, who are selected at random when they catch the Frisbees he flings into the house. Brown carefully emphasizes the randomness of their selection so that no one suspects him of using stooges. Throughout, a  roaming videographer screens close-up images on the upstage wall of people's reactions to their minds being blown or of items used during the performance. 

If you’re a fan of this stuff, you’ll probably have seen similar things in other shows, like 2013’s more elaborate Nothing to Hide, at the Signature, with magicians Helder Guimarães and Derek DelGaudio. In that one, a stuffed monkey was tossed around as a way of finding random participants and assuring the audience there were no plants. Brown makes a big thing of this, at one point even asking an audience member to inspect his ears to show he’s not wearing a tiny receiver.

Suffice it to say that Brown provides a lot of interesting, lightly humorous palaver (written by Andy Nyman, Brown, and Andrew O’Connor), much of it about Brown’s psychological training to detect what people are thinking via their facial and body language. Regardless, you need more than such training to carry off most of his routines. 

During Act One you sometimes feel there’s too much talk in proportion to the actual tricks, if I may call them that. I suspect, though, it’s all carefully planned to make the show increasingly dramatic in Act Two, when the tension grows with each routine, leading to the grand finale. And, while you’re still scratching your head over it, an even more surprising surprise awaits you.

But my position demands my secrecy and, not being the president of the United States, I put great value on my ability to keep my mouth shut when it comes to highly classified entertainment information. I assure you, though, that Derren Brown: Secret will stay with you when it’s over. And that's no secret.


Atlantic Theatre Company
336 W. 20th St., NYC
Through June 25