Virtual Impossibilities

Eric Walton bills himself as a mentalist and magician. If we loosely define the second term as a perpetrator of what can’t logically occur, what then is a mentalist? He is, or appears to be, someone who knows things of which only you or the universe are cognizant. A good practitioner can read people through everything from eye movement to body language, voice, and the heat of one’s hand. Depending on what you believe, he may be said to utilize telepathy, the power of suggestion or, further, hypnosis, mind control, precognition, and/or mediumship.

A good mentalist is completely focused. He trains his memory and manipulates yours, is likely talented at mathematics, an expert with misdirection (drawing audience attention to one thing to distract it from another) and charismatic. Expectations often predict outcome. The force of persuasion shouldn’t be underestimated.  Did I say charismatic? A show’s patter and through-line are paramount.

(Skip what Walton calls the “pre-show.” It consists of optical illusions on the screen too long and a reminder to assemble props.)

Streaming this kind of event is problematic for both performer and audience. I was pleasantly surprised at the way interaction can work online. Walton selected participants from their images on his open laptop. The audience was asked to have several objects readily available. Those who chose numbers, cards, envelopes, etc. seemed to enjoy it despite Walton’s lack of humorous repartee.

Several “effects” (the word tricks is incorrect) have the same reveal in different formats. When a volunteer chooses (ostensibly intuiting) the right/matching colors, shapes or numbers, that selection is already hand-written on the back of a card.

Example: Volunteers are asked to pick numbers within a range, say 500-1000, 1000-2000… When everything is added up, the total is on the back of Walton’s card. Someone at home correctly identifies one out of five animals from the blank back of a drawing. Walton dismisses the idea of planting a suggestion while at the same time showing the way he might’ve done just that. Another person pairs shapes “used in a Duke University remote viewing experiments” sight unseen.

I found this one irksome: four colored cards are placed inside envelopes, labeled as to color on the front. The four are added to a stack of supposedly empty envelopes and seem to be mixed. Face down (with the label not showing), the volunteer names each unseen color correctly. Of course, we don’t see the fronts of the other envelopes which might easily be duplicates in a prearranged order.

Walton professes to choose words from book pages held up to the screen. A volunteer selects one of eight. By asking whether a particular letter is in the person’s word, the performer eliminates potential answers to name the word. Arranged in advance, this is an exhibit of odds and memory.                 

A mathematical effect is introduced with allusion to vaudeville magician Thea Alba, who wrote with both hands, both feet, and her mouth at the same time, sometimes in different languages. She was, he tells us, “not a mentalist, but a performer of mental acuity.” Except for focus, I fail to see any relationship. Referring to earlier practitioners, however, might be a more entertaining framework. An effect in which Walton calls out his own numbers in a 12 box grid turn out to add up to the total a volunteer has chosen-horizontally, vertically, and even diagonally. That finale is a success.

Background music comes up several times arbitrarily. Playing it softly throughout would help. The show lacks anecdotes/stories, something to tie effects together. In an era when theatricality and yarns increasingly enhance, this presentation lacks both. Nonetheless, the at-home audience seemed entertained. In my opinion Walton needs a different writer and/or director.

Tickets are now available for a very limited engagement of Virtual Impossibilities at Wild Project in New York City. Virtual Impossibilities will stream live from Wild Project every Saturday from January 2nd to February 27th, with the exception of February 6th. Shows begin at 8 p.m. EST. Ovationtix.

If you’re a member of the Theatre Development Fund, your membership entitles you to discount tickets to Virtual Impossibilities. To purchase discount tickets, please log into your TDF account and look for Virtual Impossibilities under Current Listings. 

If you want to watch a consummate mentalist, Google/YouTube Derren Brown.

Photos courtesy of Eric Walton

About Alix Cohen (1720 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.