We get so used to small-scale, traditional storytelling in the theater that it can be hard to adjust to something surreal and non-linear like “Hypnotik: The Seer Will Doctor You Know” which opened at the Theater for the New City last weekend.
Conceived and directed by Ildiko Nemeth for The New Stage Theatre Company, the 70-minute piece follows a psychic/hypnotist (Peter B. Schmitz) whose entertainment at “the infamous Palace Theatre” is to help volunteers to get to the root of their emotional problems through the use of his supernatural gifts.
The show starts with a bit of Bob Fosse-style razzmatazz as three showgirls (below) fill us in on what we are about to see in a song-and-dance number:
“The doctor will see you now,
And slaughter your sacred cow,
heal all of you invalids,
end all of your clawing needs,
he comes to humiliate…
he wants you to deviate
so he can alleviate
He is a healer, he is a healer, his eyes are blades!”
One by one, the volunteer characters step on to a slightly raised circular platform where the doctor shows us what is going on under their highly controlled surfaces.
We see a soldier reduced to childlike behavior, a pregnant actress reveal her infant-killing tendencies, and an arrogant Hollywood producer become even more of an egomaniac.
The two most together-looking volunteers who stay on the sidelines for the first part of the play judging the action — played by the most compelling actors in the piece, Sarah Lemp (above) and Chris Tanner — end up losing their cool, just like their predecessors, when the doctor mesmerizes them.
In the final scene, the tables appear to be turned, with a man we assumed was a minor character on the fringes of the action, suddenly dominating the doctor in a way that makes us wonder if we are inside the seer’s head, sharing one of his nightmares.
“Hypnotik” blends dance, drama, and beautiful stage-picture-making for an evening that seems meant to suggest ambiguous ideas about the mysteries of human personality — what really makes us tick.
Nemeth has a great eye and her vision is beautifully realized with the aid of choreographer Julie Atlast Muz, costume designer Jessica Sofia Mitrani (her work is outstanding), and lighting designer Federico Restrepo. Nemeth herself designed the easily transformed set.
“Hypnotik” is trippy and surreal in a slyly comic manner that reminded me of some of the later Bunuel films (especially “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie”). Nemeth gives us the pieces of a gorgeous and fascinating puzzle, but leaves it up to the audience to put them together. The result is a very intriguing night of theater for those who are looking for something challenging and offbeat.