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Anomal

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

I stared at the spoon I'd been handed. Its neck had been twisted 180 degrees, allowing me to simultaneously see the inside of the bowl and the back of the handle. Many people sitting in a theater, watching the twisting process from a safe distance, would likely be excited or highly skeptical about what happened. But I was simply shocked: I'd been holding the spoon during the twisting, and I'll go to my grave insisting that no one else touched it.

This is how I was thrust into the world of the Mentalizer, aka Ehud Segev, during his new show Anomal. I'd steeled myself beforehand to believe that this was sheerly an evening of parlor tricks, and that everything I'd experience would have a rational explanation. But seeing that spoon, twisted like taffy and still bearing the Sharpie-inscribed signatures of its audience-member examiners, made my reason dissolve.

How did Segev undo my critical faculties as easily as he twisted the spoon's neck? I don't know; I don't want to know. All that matters is that when he's bending and snapping silverware, guessing cards, or reading audience members' minds, Segev puts on a heck of a show. And if that's all there were to Anomal, there'd be no good reason for anyone interested in such things to not dash to the American Theatre of Actors with all the cutlery they could spare.

Sadly, the rest of Anomal proves that Segev's powers of prestidigitation don't extend quite so readily to playwriting or acting. The show's title means "irregular" or "the opposite of normal," so Segev has scripted a series of brief dramatic scenes to place his off-kilter personality in context. But none of them, whether depicting the discovery of his abilities or the strained relationship they created with his father, is original nor particularly enlightening. "I could hear what other people are thinking," he says at one point; "My mind is a dangerous tool," and "My powers are so natural, it's super," don't explain much more.

Even when playing himself, whether at his current age (26) backstage or on a series of TV talk shows, or as a young boy trying to live up to his father's expectations in his homeland of Israel, Segev never displays the charisma he does when interacting with the real audience in real time. And when he tries to become someone else, he looks and sounds more like a drunken college student impersonating a buffoonish professor than a performer embodying a character.

Yet when he returns to his stage persona, he's never less than a consummate, polished showman who doesn't need to hide behind anything to wow a crowd. Clad entirely in elegant black, he cuts a suave figure, looking as though he'd have no trouble charming his way into any of Manhattan's hippest nightspots; his stealthy, mock-mysterious manner, coupled with his mischievous on-demand grin, aid him in being as personally disarming as his tricks are amazing. He can even sell jokes so ancient they probably date to Biblical times ("What is your name?" "Suzanne." "Correct.") with such smoothness that you can only marvel at the magic at work.

A director (Glory Bowen) is credited in the program, but this natural ease can't be directed or taught; some things are just innate, and Anomal is invariably at its best when Segev capitalizes on it. The point of the show is to demonstrate how Segev came to be more comfortable with himself in a world in which he initially didn't fit. But, at least as presented here, the destination at which he's already arrived is far more interesting than the journey.

And it's darn tough to get enough of Segev's tricks; even if you've seen some (or all) of them before, he's engaging enough to make them newly invigorating. If you've never seen someone feel someone else's face being touched, or have a song in one woman's mind come out of another piano player's fingers, you'll take away a ton of entertaining memories. And, yes, you might even leave with a spoon. But, despite the Mentalizer's best efforts, you're unlikely to leave Anomal with a deeper understanding of the basis of Segev's unusual, seductive art.


Anomal
Through January 29
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
American Theatre of Actors, 314 West 54th Street, 4th Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Theatermania