nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 26, 2010
I've always said that the theatre is where I go to find out what I think about things, and using that definition, Souled Out will qualify as theatre for a great many people. It is not, however, a traditional theatrical experience, not by any stretch of the imagination.
The setup is simple, and revealed as soon as you enter the lobby of the June Havoc Theatre, having just obtained your tickets from the box office a floor below. "Take a Tarot card," a young woman urges as you arrive; she's displaying a tray full of cards, all face down, which she holds the way a cigarette girl used to carry her wares in an oldtime movie. She continues: "Pattie might pick your card and then you can ask her a question."
And that's pretty much it. Pattie Canova—"psychological intuitive, reader, teacher, lecturer, writer, and performer" is how she describes herself in the program—comes on stage and, for most of the next 100 minutes or so, she selects a card from her own Tarot deck on stage, calls out its name ("King of Pentacles"; "Three of Wands"—like that). Whoever has that card stands up at their place in the audience. Hector, Pattie's helper stationed in the auditorium, brings over a microphone, and the audience member gets to say his or her name, usually with a "Hi, Pattie" and sometimes with a little message ("you did a reading for me five months ago"). And then the question is asked, and Pattie provides an answer.
If you don't think that's enough to carry an hour-and-a-half show, then you don't know human nature. Souled Out capitalizes on—but, importantly, never exploits—the frailties and foibles of humans, letting everyone in the room vicariously share not only Pattie's considerable humor and wisdom but also the all-too-genuine anxiety and heartsickness of the folks in the audience who are seeking Pattie's help.
There is a more formally performative component: intermittently, throughout the evening, Pattie shares tales from her own life, sometimes humorous (like the name of a fellow she meets on a blind date: Monti-Monti) and often harrowing. She's accompanied by slides projected on a screen at stage left (the same screen is used to show us images of the selected Tarot cards during the Q&A part of the show). This is very elemental theatre, and Pattie doesn't try to be an actor: she's always herself, or at least the persona she's crafted for her public psychic self—a little rough around the edges; a bastion of experience tinged with a hint of vulnerability; a compassionate and understanding guide. It occurred to me that the story she tells provides an arc for the larger interactive show as the questioners in the audience subconsciously shape their queries to reflect what Pattie has just confided.
So what kinds of questions does Pattie get asked? I imagine that while each show is different, all are broadly the same, with questions about home, career, relationships, and love. At the performance I attended, there were several people who asked about real estate and a couple of members of the same family who asked about coping with the loss of a child. Pattie seems to shape her answers to what each questioner seems to need: some are given quick, quip-like responses when their queries are too general while others are urged to look deep inside themselves for the clues they need to solve their problems. A couple of times she suggested personal readings, and one time she cannily asked a persistently uncertain woman if she wanted her to make a particular choice for her.
I was impressed by Pattie's unconventional charm and by her wisdom. I think that the same kind of special energy that enables composers to pull music out of thin air enables Pattie to "read" or "divine" what her subjects need, and though she herself is the first to claim that she's not always right, I think people who come to Souled Out with earnest intent will find just what they are looking for.