— Rob Drummond in Bullet Catch
I saw two fascinating theatre pieces this past week—neither was what I would call a play exactly. Both ultimately concerned human connection. One was life affirming but artistically problematic. The other exhibited extraordinary artistry but saved no lives except maybe the performer’s own.
Bullet Catch is appearing at the Arts Club as part of this year’s PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Written and performed by Glaswegian Rob Drummond, it looks like a solo show but isn’t really. Drummond brings a volunteer assistant from the audience onto the stage and she (at the show I saw his helper was an amazing woman named Jojo) co-performs it with him.
Drummond, a good magician, has structured the show as a series of impressive magic tricks he performs with the help of his volunteer and the audience. Everything leads to the climax, the bullet catch, in which the assistant shoots a marked bullet that the magician supposedly catches in his mouth. Drummond also intersperses a narrative about a magician named William Henderson, who was killed in New York in 1915 performing this same trick. Photographs of Henderson and the assistant who shot him frame the stage, and we hear their thoughts, diary entries and inquest transcripts dramatically read by Drummond and our volunteer. All this is effectively woven together with the magic and Drummond’s patter.
His most impressive tricks are telepathic. One example: Jojo chooses a word from a book and writes it for the audience, Drummond asks her a series of questions to which she mustn’t respond verbally or with any gestures, and of course he guesses it correctly. (Jojo could have been a ringer but I hope not.) He also does a levitating table trick, then reveals to the audience how it’s done. If you don’t want to know, you close your eyes.
Even more impressive is the calm, intelligent, good humoured conversation Drummond carries on with his co-performer. In this way the show reminded me of Blind Date, Rebecca Northan’s generous, funny improv of a date with an audience volunteer, which played at The Cultch in 2012. At one point Drummond jokingly illustrates how to connect with another person at a party. We watch the development of a pretty powerful human connection on the stage.
This becomes really clear when Jojo prepares to shoot Drummond for the bullet catch. He goes through all the rigmarole of loading the gun, having her shoot a plate to show that he’s using real bullets, etc. But the audience’s focus is on the assistant. When she aims the gun at his face and fires, she must have faith that the magician is in full control, that she’s not going to commit murder. If Jojo was a ringer she was a terrific actor. At one point I thought she would faint.
This excellent evening of theatrical magic ends with a remark from Henderson’s assistant, the shooter: “we must try to find each other because really … we are all the same.”
— PostSecret The Show, Kahlil Ashanti
POSTSECRET: THE SHOW
PostSecret: The Show communicates much the same message very differently. Based on American Frank Warren’s enormously popular project which has seen more than a million people confess a secret anonymously on a postcard (and now of course on a website), the show combines slick video clips of the confessional postcards—many of them beautifully artistic—with the live performance of three actors (Kahlil Ashanti, Ming Hudson and Nicolle Nattrass) who recite some of the posted secrets. Guitarist Mario Vaira provides onstage accompaniment. TJ Dawe directs.
Some of the posts are pretty funny: “I put feminine hygiene products in men’s shopping carts.” There are many fart confessions, and who knew that “I pee in the shower” would be the most popular secret of all. At intermission the audience is encouraged to fill out PostSecret cards, and the best are read at the start of the second act.
But for every secret farter there is also someone threatening to jump off a bridge or confessing to having been abused by their partner or raped by their father. PostSecret has apparently become a powerful means for people to air their shame and sorrow and come to each other’s aid. Someone responds to the post of the would-be jumper by setting up a “Please Don’t Jump” Facebook page that quickly garners tens of thousands of hits and saves the guy’s life. Slogans appear, mantras: Things Will Get Better. You Are Not Alone.
At first this material is very affecting. It’s impossible not to be moved by the awfulness of some people’s lives, the goodness of others and the power of PostSecret to provide catharsis and reconnect the disconnected. But the evening has no real structure and quickly becomes repetitious. Soon the artistry is overtaken by the therapy. It begins to feel like an episode of the Oprah Warren show or an infomercial for Frank, who receives a good deal of guru-worship.