By THE ENTHUSIAST
Secret is a remarkable show that’s remarkably difficult to review. Mr. Brown politely enjoins critics in the audience not to reveal what they’ve seen so as not to spoil it for others, and in fairness this makes more sense with Secret than it did with Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, at which punters attending the previews were handed buttons emblazoned with #KeepTheSecrets. This gave the proceedings a conspiratorial just-between-you-and-me frisson, to be sure, but in truth made no more sense than handing out the same button at, say, A View From The Bridge (#MumsTheWordAboutEddieRattingOutMarcoAndRodolpho). A performance that combines magic with mentalism has more to lose from loose lips, so The Enthusiast will look to be #AsCircumspectAsPossible.
Fantastic Seats And Where To Find Them
It’s worth noting that magicians have been befuddling Broadway audiences for the better part of a century. Harry Houdini trod the boards at the 44th Street Theater back in 1925, and The Great White Way has seldom lacked for smoke and mirrors in the decades since. The longest-running magic show in Broadway history, Doug Henning’s The Magic Show in 1974, played 1,920 times at the Cort, the very theater where Mr. Brown now holds court. Only coincidence – or is something more mysterious afoot?
In 1999, Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris shot a video just over a minute long showing three people dressed in white and three dressed in black passing basketballs back and forth. A title at the beginning of the film instructs the viewer to count the number of times that the white team passes the ball. Intent on getting the number right, most viewers fail to see a man in a gorilla costume walk onscreen, beat his chest at the center of the room, then walk off on the opposite side – a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness. Brown repurposes this experiment as a sideshow in Secret, but since he tells the audience up front that we won’t notice the gorilla – and we don’t – The Enthusiast isn't giving away something you’ll see. Just something you won’t.
It’s essential for a mentalist to establish beyond a shadow of doubt that he’s not working with assistants planted in the audience. Mr. Brown does this convincingly by tossing Frisbees into the audience and speaking with whomever happens to catch them. The all-time Ultimate Frisbee Champion of the World couldn’t hit a woman at the back of the balcony every time eight days a week, so it’s clear that these people aren’t plants. (And it’s clearer still when you consider that no theater is going to pepper the audience with thirty or forty people on the payroll. ‘nuff said.)
The Uncanny X-Man
To take just one example from the performance The Enthusiast attended, Mr. Brown declared that a (chosen-by-Frisbee) woman in the audience had been lying to people about something in her past. He then stated that she had been claiming for years to have been a member of the Aberdeen, Scotland swim team, when in point of fact she never was. Clearly startled, she confessed that this was true. Mr. Brown revealed dozens of such how-could-he-possibly-know-that truths during the course of the show. How does he do it? Accepting that the audience isn’t littered with plants, we’re left with two possible answers: one, that Mr. Brown does indeed have otherworldly powers. Mr. Brown himself, however, flatly states at one point that he does not have psychic powers. Which leaves the second answer: it’s a trick. But how in the world is the trick done? How? How? HOW? Your Enthusiast is utterly stumped. And delightedly so.
The Enthusiast (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. But what he declines to praise can speak volumes.