Review: MINDPLAY at The Geffen Playhouse

Mentalist Vinny DePonto fuses old school tricks with captivating theatre

By: Nov. 20, 2022
Review: MINDPLAY at The Geffen Playhouse

As we were hustled to our seats for Mindplay at The Geffen Playhouse- side note: why does the Geffen front of house staff always act as though they are administering the lifeboat-boarding on a quickly sinking ship? This is my third time reviewing one of their shows and, while I'm sure the dual theater layout adds some level of stress to their jobs, I've yet to be convinced that entering the theatre needs to be the high-stakes heist they seem to be undertaking. In a 100 foot walk from main entrance to theatre, do I really need to interact with 4 uniformed staff members? Anyway... as we were hustled to our seats for Mindplay at The Geffen Playhouse, we were given a slip of paper to fill out with something that was weighing on our minds. I will not say much about Mindplay that will give away any of the many surprises in the show, but I will say that I have never seen such a simple act of audience participation so successfully woven into such a theatrically rich narrative before.

Vinny DePonto is an extraordinarily engaging performer who, in front of a simple white backdrop, captivates the crowd like a bonafide vaudevillian. Audience-wide anxieties of participation dissipate as he engages in intimate conversation with everyone upon whom he calls, and he navigates a performance filled with surprising twists as a level-headed, friendly tour guide through a booby-trapped maze. Director Andrew Neisler, aided especially by a sumptuous sound design by Everett Elton Bradman and nuanced lighting design by Pablo Santiago, has elevated an evening of thrilling tricks to a genuine theatrical event. All an audience member would have to do to appreciate the directorial-soundness of this piece would be attend The Old Man and the Pool at Center Theatre Group earlier this season. In Mindplay, every design choice and tonal shift stems from the same cohesive universe, and not a moment seems out of place. In CTG's latest solo show, I could not say the same.

Sadly, any avid fans of solo performances in LA may have also recently caught Faye Driscoll's Thank You for Coming: Space at REDCAT downtown. Though an entirely different experience, Driscoll's musings on mortality and her autobiographical exploration of loss were infinitely more thought-provoking and original than what DePonto and co-writer Josh Koenigsberg have wrangled together for Mindplay. I question if any of the statements Mindplay makes about death, loss, and memory are anything of note. So, while this was not the most philosophically-challenging solo show LA has had to challenge us this season, it is easily the most thought-provoking magic show I've seen in a while.

The entire evening is beautiful-- there really isn't a better word for it. The aesthetic of the piece, the natural flow of each trick and the stories between, the old-timey charm of the evening as a whole all add up to a warmly inviting, nostalgia-ridden, gem of a performance. All the while, no one has taken the show too seriously and the entire evening feels playful and silly. You would be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable 80 minutes in a theatre.