In Ashton Carter’s Mysteriosa, he explores the stories of his family history through a series of illusions, both revisiting the mysteries of his ancestors lives and toying with the concept of reaching out to them, through Spiritualist practices, after their deaths.
The beginning of the Fringe can be a stressful time for performers. The material is often untested, the audiences unknown. For a magician, there comes an even more challenging twist to this anxiety: their audience is anxious too. Though you cannot go to a magic show and not expect the looming threat of having to participate, you do not know what form this participation will take. The audience depends on their magician to win- not quite their trust, but their support, from the beginning moments, or else what’s left is difficult to salvage. Ashton Carter begins, and continues his show, visibly terrified by the situation at hand. His hands shake, his voice shakes, he gets tongue tied, and is seemingly at a loss for what to do from one moment to the next. This creates a sense of unease immediately that does not go away for the rest of the show.
The audience’s wariness of course is also reflected in a disinclination to interact. No one is inspired to want to take part, and those who ultimately do at Carter’s urging do so begrudgingly. The only common feeling in the crowd is not captivation with the performer, but empathy for one’s fellow onlooker. At the performance reviewed, the show is stolen by a single crack by one audience member. An entire Fringe show, and the sole highlight is a nervous joke by someone else who is also (maybe) paying to be there.
It perhaps goes without saying at this point, but the material itself is not strong. The illusions are tired, the story is tedious, and the climax cloying and out of place. Finally, there comes a baffling conclusion. Through most of Carter’s show, he has achieved a ineptitude that could and should, for the most part, be pitiable. However, he crowns the whole thing off by concept-dropping Christianity, both in a way where it cannot be argued that that is not what he meant, but where he was too cowardly to actually say ‘Jesus’ in a magic show. Because yes, if you start talking about Jesus in a magic show, 90% of the time unbelievers will be uncomfortable and believers will be offended. And taking into account Carter’s decision to use a deck of cards with an ethnic slur on them earlier in the show, Mysteriosa blows past ‘pitiable’ for a strong finish in ‘dreadful’.