Given the advance applause when he first makes his appearance, it’s clear that Brown has a following. “We are all trapped in our own hearts,” Brown says at the beginning of the show, before adding that he “presumed” he was “gay when I was 15, but didn’t come out until I was 31.” The following two-and-a-half hour show primarily entails Brown’s recruiting audience-members to participate in his tricks, entailing a process of elimination, no less than inclusion. Brown also announces at the beginning that he “wants” us “to keep the contents of the show secret,” which makes it a challenge to write about.
Audience members are recruited in a variety of ways, including Brown’s throwing out Frisbees and inviting those who catch them to come on stage. Then too, certain members of the audience are photographed and identified in the lobby, before the show even begins. Early on, Brown tells us that he “got my love of magic and secrets from my grandfather,” who had a locked box, advising him “not to look.” Somehow, he managed to obey his grandfather’s wishes until the elder man died. And fortunately, we get to know what the box contains.
The second act makes it clear that much of the performance depends on the power of distraction, when Brown points out that a banana placed on a table stage right, has been snatched away by a gorilla–an action which some audience members saw, but most did not. But the gorilla will make at least two more appearances–only one of which, in the end, you’re sure to observe. It’s part of the night’s gig, or gag, as the case may be.
It quickly becomes apparent that Brown is a master at reading body language–no less than facial and vocal expressions–to manipulate the many audience-members who participate and to read their inner thoughts. Brown’s patter is also built on an almost glib sort of false modesty, such as his saying, near the end, “This only works because we are story-focusing creatures.” Any given interaction doesn’t “work” because we’re focusing on the “story,” but because he knows just exactly how to get us all to see only what he wants us to.
In addition to trying to keep your eye on that gorilla, you should also keep your eye on the “Secret” of the title, which ultimately reveals itself in a marvelous way at the very end–all as preconceived and revealed by Brown, of course.
Though it’s presented as a one-man show, Derren Brown: Secret has a production team that helps make it all possible: it has even been written by Andy Nyman, Brown and Andrew O’Connor and directed–with a distracting dispatch–by O’Connor and Nyman. There are minimal sets by Takeshi Kata, effective lighting by Ben Stanton, and some Frankenstein-like electrical static sound effects by Jill BC Du Boff.
Derren Brown: Secret (through June 25, 2017)
Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-691-5919 or visit http://www.atlantictheater.org
Running time: two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission