Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bullet Catch: Brits Off Broadway

"Try to work with me, not against me." -- William Wonder
Rob Drummond stars in BULLET CATCH, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

In a master class on how to build audience tension, writer and performer Rob Drummond, creates a 75-minute nail-biter around a famous bullet catch stunt that went awry.  With help from an audience volunteer, William Wonder (Drummond) is a magician who seeks to succeed where others have famously failed, performing a bullet catch before our very eyes. A loaded gun will be fired at his mouth and he will catch a bullet with his teeth--or so he hopes.  Therein lies the tale--but Drummond and director David Overend are not satisfied just to rattle you in your chair.  They are leading you to look inward as well, which ups the theatrical ante considerably.

Wonder feels an almost spiritual attachment to magician William Henderson who in 1912 was killed when he attempted the bullet catch.  The audience volunteer who fired the gun at Henderson, Charles Garth, was prosecuted in his death. Wonder tells the story of Henderson and Garth as he moves toward performing the stunt with his own reluctant audience volunteer.  The evening takes on the feeling of a séance with old timey photos of Henderson and Garth on the back wall glowing at times when their names are called out.  Using letters written by Garth to his sister, a letter from Houdini to Henderson begging him not to do the stunt, and a letter from this theater asking Wonder to sign a liability waiver, urgent voices in dispatches from the past and the present shape the story.

Despite this framework, Drummond ultimately makes this not about the stunt itself but the journey those men were on and the larger journey the audience here is on.  Free will, happiness and purpose are all bandied about. And for all the invocation of spirits of the past, Wonder is performing magic of his own before you.  There are sleight of hand tricks, mind reading, and levitation, but these are not used like a flashy Vegas nightclub act.  The goal is to build intimacy and connection between magician and assistant (and with the audience too)--like a magician for the soul rather than one for the stage.  "This is a conversation.  Not magic.  In many ways, I find this far more difficult," Wonder says to his volunteer.  The key to Wonder's magic is in reading people and reminding the audience of their existence and purpose.  Wonder asks deeper questions about what we are looking for and what we want to know.  Magic becomes the metaphor for greater introspection and understanding.

Performed in a small theater at 59 E 59th, Bullet Catch makes it so you are close to the action...and ultimately the loaded gun.  But it's an excellent setting to be drawn into this Edwardian tale of whys, whats and hows and it what it might mean to us today.

Rob Drummond stars in BULLET CATCH, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Depending on the audience volunteer and their level of engagement, each show, I imagine, could work slightly differently.  We lucked out with a retired Wall Street fellow named Richard who read the letters by Garth in his own Scottish accent.  Richard brought a jolly energy and a resigned acceptance that he would participate fully in the show. 

Drummond is charming as Wonder.  He's created a warm and tender space for his tale and his rapport with the audience and his volunteer makes the intimacy angle work. I'm normally quite skittish about anything remotely "scary" but somehow was put at ease by Drummond.  With the gentle tone of a therapist, he draws out the volunteer turning their personal stories into magic tricks.  Maybe the conclusions are not particularly deep but the fact that Drummond turns his audience inward as they experience this show seemed most magical to me.

I received a complimentary ticket to attend this production.

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