Mind Over Manhattan
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 18, 2012
Mentalist Marc Salem is back in New York City after a long time away; his new show Mind Over Manhattan runs just three more Saturdays at the Society for Ethical Culture near Lincoln Center. I am a huge Salem fan of longstanding, and I've reviewed his work, I believe, six times before on this site, most recently in 2006 (Marc Salem's Mind Games Extra).
Mind Over Manhattan includes many familiar examples from Salem's repertoire of mind games, all exercises where the master either seems to be reading our minds or controlling them: identifying objects while blindfolded, determining which of a group of five people made which randomly selected drawing, shouting out someone's vacation destination. In fact there was only one segment that was new to me in this show, a truly astonishing one in which an audience member somehow is able to select the missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle using what Salem dubs "intuition."
Everything Salem does is based in science and psychology; as he says, there's nothing that he does in this show that any ten-year-old couldn't do...with 30 years practice. (Salem's familiar hokey patter is in place in Mind Over Manhattan, too.)
I remain in awe of Salem's prowess and showmanship, but the performance I saw was, alas, disappointing. The critic shouldn't ever review the audience, but it was the folks in the seats who mostly disappointed me: time and time again, people shouted stuff out of turn, destroying a moment or damaging Salem's concentration; and also too often, audience members brought on stage to help with the various demonstrations failed to follow directions. I wondered why Salem so frequently was misjudging who to choose to have help him when I've seen him sail through crowds of disparate sizes, shapes, ages, and compositions so often in the past.
By the way, I've participated, over the years, in just about all of Salem's signature routines, so I have some insight into what it's like to be one of those chosen. For me, it's always a privilege to get to see this man do his thing up close. But I wonder if shortening attention spans and impulse-deadening reality TV aren't taking their toll on the American audience's capacity to concentrate, to engage, and to wonder in real time.
All that said, if you've not seen Marc Salem's work before, this is a rare chance to do so.