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November 30, 2023
Magic and Mayhem
Mind Mangler:A Night of Tragic Illusion
Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

At the “Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion,” I hoped to be amused as well as amazed. After all, the show at New World Stages is a Mischief Production, the group that produced “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “Magic Goes Wrong,” and “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” among others.

Directed by Hannah Sharkey, the show features an unhappy illusionist, the so-called Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis.) He is divorced, struggling financially and has lost his home to his ex-wife. Not a happy fellow and, sadly, not a successful illusionist.

To help him with his routine, the Mind Mangler depends on audience participation. He selects members from the audience to assist him. Steve (Jonathan Sayer) joins him on stage, the first time wearing a T-shirt that reads “audience member.” He changes his shirt each time he ‘becomes’ a different participant. Steve is good-natured and clueless, often giving the answer before the question is posed, usually messing up the routine.

When Mind Mangler doesn’t bumble himself, Steve does it. Predictably, most of the Mind Mangler illusions go wrong. The problem is that, despite the goofs and missteps, the show feels repetitive. We expect things to go wrong and the humor weakens because of the sameness.

Often the best part of any illusionist show is actually the audience participation; it’s what makes us believe that the magic works. There's a lot of audience involvement in this show, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields. Before the show, we were asked to fill out cards with our names and secrets. This set up a bit of anticipation - would we be chosen? Did we even want to be chosen? At intermission, people were invited up onstage to manipulate and place Rubik’s cubes in a big framework in a trick to be revealed later. Lewis often directed comments and questions to people in the first few rows and asked for volunteers.

Although the other Mischief Productions use the same conceit where things go wrong, they differ in that they tell more of a story and have several characters to make mistakes and get in trouble. With only two characters and one basic plot line in Mind Mangler, the joke felt like it was the same.Although some of the illusions actually worked, they are overshadowed by the planned screw-ups.

However, if you were actively involved and perhaps even one of the group of 40 in the theater the day I attended, you probably loved “Mind Mangler.” However, I would sooner recommend “The Play That Goes Wrong” which is also playing at the New World Stages.

New World Stages
349 West 50th Street
(Between 8th & 9th Ave)
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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