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New Yorkers Finally Meet Derren Brown
By J. KEITH VAN STRAATEN
Tuesday, May 09, 2017  •  
Tue May 9, 2017  •  
Off-Broadway  •   0 comments Share This
The show is arguably about the stories we tell ourselves, and how those beliefs shape our experiences.

The magician-artist arrives at the Atlantic Theater

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The next big thing in New York magic is already a British institution. Across the pond, Derren Brown's TV specials and series have drawn millions since 2000. He's appeared on live TV to correctly predict the lottery, play Russian Roulette, and assassinate Stephen Fry. His sold-out tours include extended runs in London's West End and have garnered two Olivier awards (a.k.a. Britain's Tony).

Now it's time for Brown (pictured above) to make his U.S. stage debut with Secret, which is running at the Atlantic Theater Company through June 5.

A British illusionist may seem an odd choice to end a major Off-Broadway company's season, but make no mistake, Secret has enough characters, story, conflict, emotion, surprises, and payoff to rival the output of any dramatist. To call this just a magic show or a mind-reading demonstration or a hypnotist act is to miss its artistry and intelligence.

How does Brown himself describe what he does? "I've never been sure," he says. "I guess it's like a mind reading show. I don't know what images that suggests in people's mind. I started off as a hypnotist and then I became a magician, but just like a conjuring magician because that was a commercial option. It was always the psychological stuff that interested me most, so I ended up bringing the two together into this sort of thing. I think the problem with most magic is that that subtext of it tends to be, 'Look at me, aren't I clever?' I don't think that's dramatically very interesting."

Secret assembles Brown's favorite segments from his previous stage productions, but that doesn't mean it's been an easy show for the veteran performer. "Actually, it's been more work," he says. "It's been way more. I've had a month of workshopping it in London, and then the three weeks here I've done already. It's partly just really wanting to get it right. The material was done, but I had to find what the show was about after the material."

The show is arguably about the stories we tell ourselves, and how those beliefs – whether true or not – shape our experiences. "I do find it eternally rich and fascinating as an idea," Brown says. "I've always been very aware that with any magician, or what I do, that it's exactly what you're playing with. That is: you talk it. It's the story that someone is telling themselves [about] what you're doing. You are creating a false narrative of A, B, C, and if you follow that line you end up at a place that something amazing has happened."

Brown sees something amazing happening too: the reactions of New York audiences. "With English audiences, they can be very appreciative, but it's very much a group thing; a group energy, I suppose people would say. Here, which is quite different, you get individuals that are happy to kind of make their reactions known. Individuals shouting out, 'What the f**k?' or 'What the--? No way!' You would never have that in England."

Co-written by Brown and his longtime collaborators Andy Nyman and Andrew O'Connor and directed by O'Connor & Nyman, Secret leaves its audience not just asking how Brown did a trick, but wondering: was that a trick? Was that mind reading or mind control? And does Derren Brown know more about how humans think – and how to make them think – than anyone else?

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Follow J. Keith van Straaten at @J_Keith. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

Photo of Derren Brown by Seamus Ryan.

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