When Drama Desk Award-nominate theater-maker and mentalist Vinny DePonto was asked that question, his response became the basis for an intriguing and stimulating live production. Created and performed by Vinny DePonto, mentalist extraordinaire, MINDPLAY explores the mind of each of us – a mind filled with our innermost thoughts, memories, fears, regrets, and secrets. But not only does MINDPLAY dig into those admittedly captivating areas – it also raises a second question: can someone else actually read your mind? Or, for that matter, is it possible for someone else to shape your thoughts? When George Orwell encountered the latter question, he was pretty sure that it was possible – with disastrous results.
In a creation inspired by DePonto’s talents and written by DePonto and Josh Koenigsberg, MINDPLAY explores the many facets of the mind in an entertaining – but also risky – set-up in which audience members are invited on the stage and asked to participate in some mental experiments to see just how adept DePonto is in uncovering the onion layers of the human psyche. But is it illusion or talent which makes DePonto’s questions cut right to the point? What is really operating here?
One of the most interesting parts of MINDPLAY revolved around DePonto’s account of his own experiences with his grandfather, a person with fragmented memories wrapped in a hazy cocoon – flawed accounts of things that were once real and now have been chopped and diced into something very different. In fact, one of DePonto’s messages seemed to be that the mind can be imperfect – that it can give us inaccurate memories and flawed perceptions.
MINDPLAY is built around the concept of audience participation. While DePonto’s audience member encounters were absorbing, they also raised the specter of very private thoughts and ideas becoming very public when unwittingly expressed in front of dozens of strangers. Before the beginning of the show, audience members were asked to think about and describe in a few words their own fears, regrets, and/or recurring and troubling memories. While this was a clever method to get audiences thinking about their meandering minds, it also tended to focus the show’s direction towards a relatively dark and possibly bleak place. At the same time, DePonto’s introductory statements were light-hearted and very amusing – so that chuckles seemed to share time with darker emotions.
DePonto himself is a charming and non-threatening man who presents as gentle and thoughtful, clearly good things for a mentalist trying to delve into strangers’ minds. Director Andrew Neisler skillfully helmed the proceedings; he knew that the qualities which he encouraged in the mentalist were those which would help the show move seamlessly forward. MINDPLAY is an entertaining and thought-provoking production which raises more questions about how the mind functions than it answers. And perhaps that was also the show’s message – that the mind may be too complex to be easily categorized.
MINDPLAY runs through December 18, 2022, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is in the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024. Tickets range from $39 to $129. For information and reservations, call 310-208-2028 or go online.