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Derren Brown: Secret

Leaving the Atlantic Theater words like “fantastic” and “amazing” are buzzing around your head after seeing the British psychic, a spiritualist, a magician.

Derren Brown in a scene from “Secret” (Photo credit: Ahron H. Foster)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

When you’re leaving the Atlantic Theater, words like “fantastic” and “amazing” are buzzing around your head from other theatergoers, who, like you, just saw Derren Brown: Secret. Brown is a British psychic, a spiritualist, a magician–his bio in the Playbill refers to his  “skills at psychological magic”–and his American theatrical debut proves everything everyone is saying it is: it transcends comprehension as it enters unknowable territory. He ultimately performs a trick involving six arbitrary audience members that, somehow, has been pre-ordained in many different and uncanny ways. And then, there’s all that comes before.

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.

Derren Brown in a scene from “Secret” (Photo credit: Ahron H. Foster)

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

David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (39 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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