Friday, November 22, 2013

Die Laughing - "Play Dead" resurrected at the Geffen - review by Mark Share

What do you get when you cross a mentalist act with a horror show and throw in some laughs and nudity? I can't say exactly what genre Play Dead fits in, but it's a wickedly wild ninety minutes, and you'll get your spine tingled, funny bone tickled, and stomach turned.

The show is performed by illusionist and classically-trained actor, Todd Robbins, who created the show in collaboration with Teller (the silent, small half of the magic act Penn and Teller). The tone is very Penn and Teller, with gore, laughs, magic, and some iconoclasm -- the show debunks the emotionally-predatory aspects of the séance.

This is a 4D production as they say at the amusement parks, meaning that the sense of touch gets used as well. Total darkness for some parts adds to the dark merriment. The small theatre makes the magic more intense; illusions like a rising table are fresh again when you are sitting so close up and can't figure out how it's happening. Horrible things appear to happen to audience volunteers.

In the modern way, there's stunts mixed with real magic. Robbins eats a light bulb, which is a stunt, and of course the audience believes it's a trick. More than the visuals, it's the amplified sound of teeth crunching glass that is unbearable. When not performing magic, Robbins presents lectures on history (of cannibals, geeks, and mediums) blended with personal anecdotes (he's from nearby Long Beach) all told in the master thespian voice and mannerisms of John Lithgow.


The show started at the Rio, played successfully off Broadway, and now arrives at the Geffen as LA's own nightmare before Christmas. Boo!

Play Dead at the smaller Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater to the left of the main stage at The Geffen Playhouse. Through Sunday, December 22, 2013. Tickets at or by phone at 310-208-5454. 

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