Possibilities. It’s definitely one of the words that comes to mind when crossing the threshold of Chelsea’s McKittrick Hotel…you never know what will welcome you once the elevator doors open. The “hotel” staff encourages this sense of mystery; when asked how many floors the building has, the bellhop simply shrugged his shoulders. The pseudo hotel–theatrics space is odd and fantastical. And when it comes to the word “possibilities,” it is nothing but full of them.
Another thing about that word: It’s very long. Which is why I chose it when mentalist Scott Silven—the man behind the illusion show Wonders at Dusk—asked me to select a random, lengthy word from a series of magazines he had fanned out in front of me. But we’ll get back to that later.
The venue couldn’t be more noirish if it tried. Cocktails are served in delicate coupes, fancy liquor bottles line a backlit wood shelf, globe-shaped chandeliers hang from an exposed ceiling, and jazzy tunes drift from invisible speakers. A dreamy fog settled across the entire venue; I half expected to see a group of cigar-smoking mobsters crowded around the tiny two-person tables. My friend and I arrived early and were quickly escorted to our seats, situated almost directly in front of the stage.
Once our Prosecco arrived, it was time to investigate. I don’t know much about mentalism or illusionists, but I was eager to get ahead of the game and search for clues as to how Silven pulled off such trickery. This proved tricky. The stage was empty of anything unusual, save for a cozy ruby red chair, a nightstand with one of those greenish lamps you find in old detective movies, and a typewriter atop a plain wood desk.
When all of the tables were filled, Silven approached the stage in a simple suit and began this one-and-half-hour journey not unlike most “magic” shows, with a story. He spoke of his family and how he loved to hide away in his secret spot, his grandparents’ attic. Night after night his younger self would look out at the stars and dream about one day traveling the world. He then turned the narrative onto the audience, asking us to close our eyes and picture our own sea of stars. What shapes did their constellations make in our minds? We were instructed to draw that picture on a piece of paper, and as he pointed to people in the crowd, he’d guess the image like a how’d-you-do-that? game of Pictionary.
It was as if he knew what every single person was thinking before they were even thinking it.
I’m tempted to stop here, not daring to give away anything and ruin the experience Silven creates out of nothing but his imagination and memory. But I will tell you that the audience is just as important to the show as are the mentalist’s extraordinary talents. A majority of the magic of Wonders at Dusk relies on the fact that it is completely immersive; everyone participates in one way or another. A man chosen at random, for example, was asked to rip a map into as many pieces as possible. Silven then passed the pieces out to the crowd and each person, in turn, ripped their piece in half, picking one piece to hand back. The fun (if involved) process culminated in Silven correctly picking one of the hundreds of map pieces that revealed the exact country a couple—again, chosen at random—last visited.
All of his predictions were spot-on. It was as if he knew what every single person was thinking before they were even thinking it. In fact, that’s exactly what happened when he invited five people to the stage. Silven allowed each of them to choose a sealed envelope numbered one through five, even offering chances to change their minds and select another. By the end, the final envelopes left in their hands were opened to reveal a specific characteristic about the holder—from what they were wearing and what their gender was to their actual names. And the man can act. More than once he convinced me that he was off his game, only to reveal that he had a bigger plan in store, ending in a more impressive act of showmanship than I thought possible.
I was given the chance to pick any word on any page in one of eight or so magazines—and he knew what I chose before I could close the old issue of The Economist. But since the possibilities were endless, I was probably making it too easy.
Why You Should Go: Storytelling, mind reading, and a little “I didn’t see that coming” weave into one show you’ll need to see twice to believe.
Scott Silven’s Wonders at Dusk
530 West 27th Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues), Chelsea
Friday and Saturday through February 23