Friday, January 16, 2015

PuSh 2015: Bullet Catch

Although technically the 2015 edition of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival doesn't open until next Tuesday (with the great Louise Lecavalier's So Blue at SFU Woodward's), already one show is up and running. Bullet Catch, co-presented with the Arts Club and on at Granville Island's Revue Stage through February 7, is a one-man show written, performed and co-directed by Scotland's Rob Drummond. Produced in association with Glasgow's legendary performing arts hub The Arches, the show is about magic, or more specifically our will to believe, or not believe, in the magic of the theatre.

Over the course of 75 minutes, Drummond, himself a trained magician, gradually pieces together for us the story of William Henderson, a predecessor in the trade who supposedly died performing a trick even Harry Houdini refused to attempt--catching in one's teeth a bullet fired by a volunteer from the audience at point blank range. Now Drummond, with the help of his own volunteer recruit from among our ranks, proposes to repeat the trick for us as the climax to his show. At last night's opening performance that volunteer was Philip, a student recently arrived in the city from Greece with the goal of studying medicine, and who was chosen from among a lively and rather talkative group of potential candidates via the first of Drummond's feats of mind-reading, a trick involving two white and one black marbles.

Philip is then invited on stage and over the remainder of the show he and Drummond (with, in our case last night, the additional help of fellow audience member Carolyn as surrogate reader) tell the story of Henderson's tragic demise, while also slowly establishing a bond of trust through an accretion of ever more incredible feats of clairvoyance, levitation, and the like. In the case of the former strand of the show, we learn that Henderson's death may not have been a tragic accident, but in fact a willed suicide. This idea of free will versus predestination is then skillfully woven by Drummond into the increasingly suspenseful build-up to his own performance of the death-defying trick, letting Philip know that whatever happens as a consequence of his choosing to fire the gun (which we see being loaded with very real bullets), he is off the hook.

I won't spoil the ending to the show by revealing what happens next, although given that the show runs for three more weeks, future audiences can surmise for themselves. Which is not in any way to suggest that the piece is gimmicky. Quite the contrary, the show is in fact a profound meditation on the nature of belief. To wit: at one point, following the successful performance of a particularly stunning trick, Drummond asks audience members if they want to know the secret behind the illusion. Roughly three-quarters of last night's audience said yes. But Drummond doesn't just go with the majority; he lets those of us who prefer to retain the sense of mystery and awe surrounding the trick close our eyes while he reveals his wires, as it were, to the rest. As Drummond informed us, it would feel like forever, and indeed there were moments when I had to struggle mightily against opening my eyes to take a peek; but I resisted, and I somehow felt better for it. Because, as Drummond demonstrates here--and as I like to tell my students, paraphrasing the great performance studies scholar Richard Schechner--the make-believe of the theatre is also about making belief. And though many of us may have exited the theatre questioning the existence of William Henderson, one thing we were never in doubt of was the strength and sincerity of the bond established between Drummond and Philip.


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