Actor-turned-illusionist Rob Drummond may be the sole architect of the thrilling magic show meditation “Bullet Catch,” but make no mistake, the crowd itself takes center stage.
This is by no means meant as a slight to Drummond. In the role of William Wonder, he was a congenial master of ceremonies, winning over the crowd from the moment he walked onto the stage with his quippy banter tinged in a charming Scottish accent.
However, it wasn’t long (about two minutes, to be exact) before he asked for a volunteer from the audience. Once the hands of the willful went up, his eyes narrowed, and the search for details commenced.
This show’s appeal is, in a sense, derived entirely from the details. Whether it comes from the details he gets from his volunteers or the finer specifics revealed in letters and courtroom transcriptions he asks to be read aloud onstage, many of Drummond’s monologues evoke more than they inform.
He balanced his good-natured crowd work with a growing sense of tension, mined from off-hand references and descriptions of previous magicians who found themselves on the receiving end of botched bullet catches of yore.
Drummond effortlessly shifted the show from laughter to omen as he related failed firearm stunts. He kept the audience in the palm of his hand.
That control is valuable to a performer, but essential to a magician. Every trick, from making a small covered table float in midair to a nail-biting game of choice involving the dangerous end of a broken bottle neck was executed flawlessly, the audience members murmuring their thoughts of awe, fear and joy throughout the performance.
His orchestration of the proceedings was somewhat ironic, in that Drummond often highlighted the recurring theme of choice versus predetermination, often with help from his ever-present audience volunteer, a retired Marine colonel named Tom Williams, whose innate charisma and comic timing augmented the show’s overall appeal.
And, of course, there was the gun, the central instrument of the show, which conjured an audible gasp from the audience even though they were present at a show called “Bullet Catch.” All the tension layered on throughout the show paid off in spades during the buildup to the show’s final trick (two members of the audience chose to leave the room before it began). I won’t reveal what happened; I will only say that this culminating moment did not disappoint.
As a strange hybrid of magic and theater, the show’s biggest strength came from the participation and give-and-take between magician and audience. The art of magic and the reciprocal energy that circulated in the theater, fueling audience reactions and influencing the proceedings onstage, kept the crowd on the edge of their seats, making “Bullet Catch” one of the most thoroughly engaging performances of this Spoleto Festival.
Nick DeSantis is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.