Off-Broadway Theater Review: BULLET CATCH (Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on April 9, 2013

in Theater-New York

ALMOST MAGIC

Although the magic tricks in Bullet Catch are not so much ends in themselves as they are tools used to help explore the show’s themes, the effectiveness of the play – named after the occasionally fatal trick first developed in the 17th century, in which the magician attempts to catch a bullet fired from a gun with his teeth – depends in large part on how dangerous one believes such a trick could possibly be when performed in a theater on East 59th Street in Manhattan, in 2013. In fact it can be quite dangerous, though not necessarily for the reasons one would imagine from its description.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of BULLET CATCH 59E59 TheatersThe main goal of this enchanting and compelling, if not completely satisfying show, written, directed and performed by the remarkably talented Rob Drummond (with David Overend co-directing), appears to be to create a semi-interactive, mystical experience, examining issues of perception and reality, destiny and free will, causality, faith, and the connection of seemingly random individuals to one another. Besides the magic – much of it of the mentalist variety – we get stories and anecdotes concerning magicians of ages past, as well as juicy little nuggets regarding human behavior: Mr. Drummond informs us that Freud had a theory which stated that upon meeting someone for the first time the first thing we do is assess whether we should kill, save, or have sex with that person. Mr. Drummond also advises us, before coming up to a stranger at a party, to position ourselves so that we can see that stranger out of the corner of our eye, and then to mimic the stranger’s movements, so that by the time we approach the stranger will have an inexplicable sense of having known us for all of their lives.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of BULLET CATCH 59E59 TheatersMr. Drummond, who is also a magician, creates a character on the stage who is so charming in his sincerity – radiating such humanity and intelligence – that one finds oneself really wanting to like and believe everything he’s saying and doing; it’s a pleasure to be with him. And it’s a pleasure to be in his world. Created on an intimate stage decorated and designed by Francis Gallop to suggest a 19th century magician’s parlor, it’s a seductive, fairytale place from a bygone era full of mystery and wonder, as well as a sense that something dark and menacing might be lurking in the shadows just behind the curtain (atmospheric lighting by Simon Hayes; sound by Ross Ramsay). Mr. Drummond’s performance is hypnotic and he does an excellent job of selling the magic: My companion was completely enthralled, at times anxious and frightened (much of the audience appeared to have the same reaction). But for me, despite his exceptional artistry, something did not quite gel.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of BULLET CATCH 59E59 TheatersWhen watching a straight magic show one is, ideally, awed by the tricks; one might even find oneself engaging in magical thinking to some extent (“I know she can’t really be levitating, but…”). Still, at bottom one knows the performance to be an illusion. In fact trying to figure out how it works is, arguably, an enjoyable part of the experience. Mr. Drummond however puts himself in great danger, conceptually speaking, with Bullet Catch, in that the show’s success depends a great deal on us completely believing what we are seeing, which is perhaps not such an easy feat for certain members of a modern New York audience.

Dmitry Zvonkov's Stage and Cinema Off-Broadway review of BULLET CATCH 59E59 TheatersI cannot say for certain what is real in Bullet Catch and what is staged, and I don’t want to spoil anyone’s experience by guessing. I can say that the fascinating subjects Mr. Drummond brings up throughout the show are insufficiently explored. And the philosophical part of the climax – Mr. Drummond’s conclusion – doesn’t pop; it feels banal, a touch preachy, and not very convincing.

photos by Carol Rosegg

Bullet Catch
presented by The Arches, Glasgow
part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters
scheduled to end on April 21, 2013
for tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org

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