BWW Reviews: Continue to PLAY DEAD - If You Dare - at the Geffen Through the Holidays
Todd Robbins classifies Play Dead as a spooky entertainment; it may or may not scare you. I am vulnerable and open, but not that readily frightened and certainly not squeamish at the sight of blood; many are, however. And...Play Dead's stylish theatricality, off-color and fun stories, great intense magic, which includes some very exciting visuals... and a disarming performance by genuine showman Todd Robbins make for a truly enjoyable evening.
With a background set that looks like an attic crammed full of memorabilia that belonged to serial killers, child molesters, mediums and even a poor Christian piano teacher who was victimized and murdered after years of practicing only generosity and kindness, the theatre is turned into an eclectically alluring curiosity patch. There's a huge cage - fit for a human - a piano and boxes and boxes labeled with names of historical criminals like Albert Fish, often called the boogeyman because he preyed on and killed small children.Robbins uses the set and its artifacts as props, but first up is the ghostlight and more specifically the light bulb. He offers it to a couple of audience members to touch, as a means of verifying that it is indeed made of glass and then proceeds to eat it piece by piece explaining as he swallows that there is a way to swallow it without cutting the mouth, throat, etc. Is this totally unreal, a gimmick, as many choose to think? We are left to ponder as Robbins moves along to darker, more serious parts of his repertoire.
There are many highlights that I will not mention, as it might spoil the enjoyment of those planning to attend the show through December 22. All I will say is that Robbins does choose someone from the audience and does away with him during the course of the show. The body disintegrates. Does it reappear? Mum's the word! Among the other historical figures brought into play, two mediums make an appearance - the young, voluptuous Mina Crandon, known as Margery, whose husband was a Boston surgeon...she loved sexual exploits and displaying her ample cleavage...and Eusapia Palladino, an older, hefty and far more unattractive exploiter from Italy. There are an ensemble of four actors who literally pop up making sudden unanticipated entrances and exits as these characters at select moments.He shifts gears to make contact with the dead, whose horror he calls the truth. It is the reason, he coaxes, that we are all present. The cold carton boxes behind offer bizarre contents associated with the crimes of these evil-doers. When a girl picked at random from the audience sticks her hand into Albert Fish's box, it comes out covered in blood, and as Robbins tells of Fish's heinous deeds, he wipes her bloody hand all over the jacket of the white suit he is wearing. The blood-stained jacket stays on throughout the 80-minute show, as a constant reminder that there is more evil to come.
What truly pulled me into Play Dead was, of course, the dark nature of the piece, its unusually engrossing script, including the historical truths, penned by Robbins and Teller, and Robbins himself, who really knows how to make the magic work to full advantage. As I mentioned before I am not squeamish, but...when Robbins cut into human flesh with a knife...oops! I promised I wouldn't give it away...it made me shudder, the illusion was that believable . Robbins is a tall, attractive, classy gentleman with a deep sexy voice that works beautifully to pull the audience in and keep them riveted to his deceptions. And of course, there's lots of participation throughout this show so audience are not allowed to get bored for a split second. There are several blackouts - I swear someone touched the back of my head at one point... and a live creature who may just run amok and make contact... Oh, it's fun...go, you'll have a good time! But...leave the little tikes at home...it's a bit too creepy and gory to justify their inclusion.