'Mind Mangler' review — Mischief Theatre pokes fun at magic shows

Read our review of Mind Mangler, the latest comedy play from the creators of The Play That Goes Wrong, off Broadway at New World Stages through March 3.

Allison Considine
Allison Considine

The Mind Mangler wants to know your secrets. Upon entering New World Stages, audience members scribble their names and deep-seated truths on paper, which are placed into two glass bowls onstage. The classified information becomes a bit in Mind Mangler, a show in which a bungling mentalist attempts to read minds and manipulate physical objects. It doesn’t go well. And neither does the show.

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, Mind Mangler is the latest comedic foray from Mischief Theatre and a spin-off of the troupe’s Magic Goes Wrong in London's West End. This year alone, Mischief has had two other shows in New York: The Play That Goes Wrong — at New World Stages alongside Mind Mangler — and last season’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong on Broadway.

The award-winning Mischief Theatre is lauded for its slapstick humor and running gags. In Mind Mangler, there’s a recurring poorly timed sound cue and jabs at audience members. But the show lacks the spectacle of Mischief’s earlier works, with large ensembles and sprawling sets that crash and ignite with pyrotechnics when things go wrong.

The incompetent mentalist is played by Henry Lewis, the show’s co-writer and the artistic director of Mischief. He’s fresh off a disappointing two-night run at a Holiday Inn in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and eager to tighten his act in New York before performing at the Sydney Opera House. He tries to read people’s minds with his supposedly superior senses of sight, smell, and taste.

At the performance I attended, he guessed someone’s job was “outside,” but in reality, they worked indoors as an 18th-century European porcelain seller, which became a repeated gag throughout the show, to much comic effect.

The mentalist’s stooge is played with hilarity by co-writer Jonathan Sayer, an audience plant and volunteer for several acts. Sayer wears different t-shirts with sayings like “Audience Member #2 With Glasses,” causing loud guffaws from the audience.

But the audience isn’t off the hook. There is participation involved. In one scene, a brave volunteer pretended to be hypnotized onstage. In another, the Mind Mangler guessed secrets — which, magically, he did. One of my fellow audience members has only eight toes, and another accidentally knocked over Stockard Channing at a restaurant.

Some of the best parts of Mind Mangler involve breaking set pieces. When trying to bend a spoon, the mentalist’s efforts instead cause a microphone stand to curve, and a lighting rig to descend. (The spoon, however, remains intact). Another standout moment is when he tries — and fails — an escapology trick, leading to his decapitation not once, but twice.

The two-hour show, directed by Hannah Sharkey, is too long for its good. (At the start of Act 2, the Mind Mangler says he’s been told intermission is a highlight of the show.) The eventual payoff of the mentalist’s tricks takes too long to be satisfying. And where other Mischief shows are family-friendly, this one features too many off-the-cuff curse words for kids. It might be best enjoyed by a stag party or friend group after a round or two of drinks.

Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion is at New World Stages through March 3. Get Mind Mangler: A Night of Tragic Illusion tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Henry Lewis in Mind Mangler. (Photo by Pamela Raith Photography)

Originally published on

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