David Kwong’s THE ENIGMATIST At The Geffen Will Make You Gasp — Review

Los Angeles

David Kwong in The Enigmatist | Photo: Jeff Lorch

Alan Koolik
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October 1, 2021 5:20 PM

Walking into the atrium for The Geffen Playhouse’s The Enigmatist, you are greeted by clumps of audience members peering at clues around the room, trying to solve puzzles before entering the auditorium. These are merely an amuse-bouche for David Kwong’s feast of puzzle, wit, and illusion that will commence shortly. There are ushers at hand to help out with hints, but almost everyone seemed game to get to the solutions on their own. 

Upon entering the Geffen’s intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, one notices that the room has been transformed from a traditional theater space to a paneled room that is reminiscent of an old pub, or a vintage study. The walls are lined with knickknacks that appear random, but on closer inspection make up a series of secret codes that exist solely for the audience’s decoding pleasure. 

The one-man show, which Kwong presents with a virtuosic sense of showmanship that delights and informs, is chock full of magic tricks, mind reading, and other illusions that keep the audience on their toes throughout the evening. Continuous audience participation ensures that the energy never tires, as Kwong calls on guests to answer puzzles, serve as volunteers, and even contribute to the grand finale, where he constructs a crossword, which he does often for The New York Times, live on stage, using shouted-out suggestions and callbacks from earlier in the show. 

David Kwong in The Enigmatist | Photo: Jeff Lorch

In addition to Kwong’s feats of puzzling magic, he is a rapturous storyteller, regaling the audience with the history of William and Elizabeth Friedman, whom he calls the parents of modern cryptography. Their story informs and illuminates the tricks Kwong performs and allows for a steady pace to be maintained for the whole performance. 

Kwong’s performance is only enhanced by the superb design elements that made up the technical aspects of the show. Brett J. Banakis’s production design was wildly immersive and entertaining; there were countless puzzles along the walls to ponder. Joshua Higganson, the lighting and video designer, shifted mood and scene on a dime, and his video presentations were engaging without making Kwong seem wonkish. The most mesmerizing, however, was Dave Shukan and Francis Menotti’s work. As the puzzle consultant and magic consultant, respectively, their work blends seamlessly with Kwong’s performance and the end result is a technically flawless evening. 

The Enigmatist is a welcome return to live theatre. While most of the show could be presented over Zoom, the most crucial element, a collective gasp, would be missing—and the plentiful gasps throughout the house only highlight how vital an audience is to live theater. 

The Enigmatist has been extended and will play through November 14 at The Geffen Playhouse. For tickets, click here.

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Alan Koolik

Alan is currently completing a masters degree in business analytics at the University of Warwick, outside London. Prior to this, he was an analyst for Jujamcyn Theaters and an off-Broadway producer. While an undergraduate at Columbia University, he was on staff for the student newspaper, the Spectator.