Review: ‘Anomal’

Life as a professional psychic can't be easy, especially trying to garner credibility while plying a trade that tends to exist as either a gaudy casino act or the sentimental fodder of John Edward. So you've got to give credit to Ehud Segev, a self-professed "mentalizer" who has designed his one-man show, "Anomal," to be an earnest theatrical event.

Life as a professional psychic can’t be easy, especially trying to garner credibility while plying a trade that tends to exist as either a gaudy casino act or the sentimental fodder of John Edward. So you’ve got to give credit to Ehud Segev, a self-professed “mentalizer” who has designed his one-man show, “Anomal,” to be an earnest theatrical event. Sure, there are feats of psychic wonder — including one neat trick (or was it?) in which Segev guessed this critic’s hometown — but there also are stories of the Mentalizer’s Israeli childhood, praise for studying Kabbalah and more than a few zingers about Paris Hilton and, um, Barbra Streisand.

“People,” the psychic tells us, “People who read people … are the luckiest people in the world.” This groaner gets hurled out just after Segev bends a series of spoons (with his mind, you understand), and just a few minutes before he recalls, under the softest of lights, how his estranged father almost died of a stroke.

And that’s how it goes for 90 minutes, with one bizarre bit of vaudeville-style showmanship following the next.

We know, because Segev keeps telling us, that the purpose of this mishmash is to give a kind of dignity to the art of “mentalizing,” placing it in the context of the performer’s otherwise normal struggles, joys and hopes.

Working with co-writer Carl Kissin, Segev even sets large chunks of “Anomal” which essentially means “anomaly” — in a backstage environment, where he can apply stage make-up and voice his worry that his show won’t succeed.

Ultimately, success isn’t achieved, and the backstage bits provide a clue: It’s never clear which show Segev is backstage for. The one we’re already watching? Some other show he’s supposed to be performing in a fictional universe? These are simple questions of time and location, yet “Anomal” provides no answers.

For all his experience as a psychic, Segev exhibits little aptitude as a stage writer and performer. All the anecdotes are incoherent, offering no arc or narrative.

And Segev, who admits he’s not a native English speaker, exhibits no sense of comedy. His schematically written patter makes it obvious when the audience is expected to laugh, but his delivery lacks timing and inflection. The jokes just hang there awkwardly, leaving us all to wonder how Segev might have salvaged the bit about trying in vain to read Hilton’s mind.

But whereas the personal segments are lackluster, the production works when the Mentalizer displays his supposedly paranormal skills. Whether one views his feats as genuine supernatural events or just excellent magic tricks, there’s no denying Segev’s aplomb in this arena.

But his skills as a psychic/magician just undercut “Anomal’s” stated purpose. It’s as though Segev is so inculcated with the glitzy tropes of magicians like David Copperfield that they’ve overwhelmed his attempt to create a more serious-minded piece of theater. Spend your life on the magic circuit, the production suggests, and you’ll just naturally use dry ice and new-age music in all your work.

Lighting designer James Beddell doesn’t help matters, since he relies on the violet spotlights and overly dramatic blackouts of a Vegas spectacular.

There may be a time when a psychic can craft a show that successfully weaves heart and thought into its spectacle. But before he or she tries, that mentalist should carefully study “Anomal” for ominous warnings.

Anomal

American Theater of Actors; 140 seats; $55 top

Production

An Ehud Segev production of his play in one act, with additional material by Carl Kissin. Directed by Glory Bowen.

Creative

Lighting, James Beddell; sound, Nir Graf; production stage manager, Suzanne Apicella. Opened Jan. 6, 2006. Reviewed Jan. 7. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.

Cast

The Mentalizer - Ehud Segev
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