Sitting through a performance of the Geffen Playhouse's delightful spook show Play Dead resurrects memories of a long-gone time when such shows were truly scary — and scads of fun. Performed by Todd Robbins, who co-wrote the show with director Teller (of the magician duo Penn & Teller), Play Dead is a tongue-in-cheek, loving homage to the spectacle and hocus-pocus of the carnie era, when 25 cents would buy a ticket and hot dogs were a nickel. It's also very much a blunt-force display of that curious human fascination with bloodshed, gore, death and the afterlife. Clad in a natty white suit, Robbins makes an ideal host for the proceedings, melding a parlous demeanor with a carnival barker's sturdy voice and the polished delivery of a master magician. Tom Buderwitz's impressive set is loaded with trade items, props and macabre bric-à-brac (a neon “Jesus Saves” sign is situated opposite John Dillinger in a cell). Robbins makes artful use of the many onstage “coffin boxes,” wherein lie the restless remains of notorious folks such as serial killer and eater of children Albert Fish. The assorted tricks and illusions are astonishing for their artistry and variety. The final feat of magic is a tour de force. In deference to Robbins' wishes not to give away the tricks, no more can be said other than that the show is a blast from start to finish. (The Geffen warns that the production contains some disturbing images and brief moments of nudity, so material may be inappropriate for children.)
Wed., Nov. 20, 8 p.m.; Thu., Nov. 21, 8 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 & 7 p.m.; Mon., Nov. 25, 8 p.m.; Tue., Nov. 26, 8 p.m.; Wed., Nov. 27, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 3, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 4, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 10, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 11, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 12, 8 p.m.; Tue., Dec. 17, 8 p.m.; Wed., Dec. 18, 8 p.m.; Thu., Dec. 19, 8 p.m. Starts: Nov. 20. Continues through Dec. 22, 2013
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