By Will McKinley
The Quantum Eye is the hottest show off-Broadway. And thats not necessarily a good thing.
As I walked into the SoHo Playhouse on a recent Friday evening to see a performance of Sam Eatons amazing evening of magic and mentalism, I was greeted by a tall, spiky-haired woman named Janet.
Would you like a complementary bottle of water? she asked, as she handed me an ice-cold Simply H2O. We like our audiences to be cool and well hydrated!
It does get a little hot in here, her fellow usher confessed.
Boy, she wasnt kidding. The SoHo Playhouse is one of the most historic theaters in New York City and, on a steamy summer night, its also one of the sweatiest. Either the theater doesnt have an air conditioner, or its broken, or maybe the magician made it disappear. Im not sure. But I do know one thing: if youre going to see The Quantum Eye, wear as little clothing as modesty will allow.
Because you should see it, and not just for the complementary beverage. The Quantum Eye is a smart, fast-paced mental magic show that is suitable for the entire family (assuming no one in your family is susceptible to heat stroke.) Eaton, a curly-headed, middle-aged fellow who apparently patronizes the same Lens Crafters as Harry Potter, is a talented mentalist with a dry wit and a low-key performance style. But if youre the type who enjoys Las Vegas-style illusionists with black eyeliner, feathered mullets and disappearing tigers, Eaton is probably not your magic man. Hes more like a science teacher from Syosset than Siegfried or Roy good news for Eaton, who is unlikely to get his face bitten off during a performance.
And now for the bad news: the program for The Quantum Eye suggests that the performance is staged in a Victorian Parlor Setting. The SoHo Playhouse may be housed in a building tha existed during the reign of Queen Victoria, but it is no parlor. Nor is it the right venue for a show that relies so heavily on active audience participation. Each of Eatons ten routines requires one or more volunteers, a fact that no one seems to have shared with the tech crew at the SoHo Playhouse. Eaton spent much of the two consecutive weekly shows I attended asking for the house lights to be raised, or wandering into complete darkness to help volunteering audience members wiggle out of their cramped seats.
For a show like The Quantum Eye, the setting is almost as important the content. But the show lacks any set at all even a simple black curtain behind the performer resulting in the prominent featuring of a red EXIT sign and a less-than-magical backstage fire extinguisher. The production recently relocated after a highly successful run in a more intimate space, and it would benefit from a bit of creative re-thinking in its new home.
These challenges aside, Eaton puts on an entertaining performance that had the audience oohing and ahhing on cue, with some youthful giggling sprinkled in for good measure. For his first trick he called four audience members on stage and guessed which of them was there to kill him. (The killer was the one who picked a package of green Listerine Breathstrips out of a bag. The other three had selected the non-poisonous, but less tasty, Cinnamon flavor.)
I get this wrong about half the time, Eaton admitted, and his disclaimer proved to be entirely accurate. He guessed wrong the first time I saw him do it and right the second. But the audience didnt seem to mind. Eatons occasional imperfection somehow gave the mental illusions a greater sense of credibility; if it looked easy it wouldnt have been as impressive. Anyway, If Eaton could successfully read minds and predict the future 100 percent of the time he should be spending his Friday evenings at Belmont, not at the SoHo Playhouse entertaining 199 sweaty New Yorkers.
For me, the highlight of The Quantum Eye is a bit where Eaton guesses the name of an audience members unseen pet (he figured it out both times, with a cool twist). The lowlight involved a few over-enthusiastic audience members, who mistook Eatons request for volunteers as an opportunity to make their New York stage debut. I understand that half the people in this city are aspiring actors, but if you volunteer at a magic show, just shut up and do what youre told. Leave the shtick to the professionals.
All in all, The Quantum Eye is a fun evening. And the closing trick is one of those howd-he-do-it sleights-of-mind that will leave you scratching your head for days, long after youve finished your complementary bottle of water.