I went to Frank Perri’s Fringe performance of Mesmerized possessed mostly by curiosity over whether people really could be hypnotized to do nutty things, or if it’s a mix of suggestion and flashy pretending. I left wondering if hypnotism could be a perpetual state of existence.
According to Perri, hypnotism is a common and natural state: we enter it every time we drive somewhere without having conscious memory of each turn, every time we absent ourselves in a vivid daydream, or, as he demonstrated, every time our mouths water because we imagine the smell of a potent food.
Perhaps to prime his audience for maximum participation, Perri said the most intelligent and imaginative people are easiest to hypnotize.
What’s your name?
At first I enjoyed watching the volunteers onstage, who clearly weren’t hypnotized but gamely followed Perri’s suggestions anyway, with sideways glances and awkward, guilty smiles, until he gracefully whisked them offstage.
But soon it was clear that two people out of the eight who came onstage were truly in an altered mental state: a 20-something woman and a 10-year-old girl. At Perri’s prompt, the girl forgot the number four, and repeatedly counted her own fingers like this: “One, two, three, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven.”
She was bewildered by this but could not remedy it.
While she was under hypnosis, the woman, at Perri’s suggestion, forgot her own name, gaping blankly into the mic.
He also told her that until she left the building, she would find it hilarious every time someone shook her hand.
During the show, I was distracted by pinging text messages arriving on a phone one of the volunteers left on the seat in front of me. I checked my own phone even though I had silenced it. When I looked to my left, a woman a few seats away had her nose buried in her own screen. When we can’t look up from a smartphone, is that a kind of hypnotism?
After the show, I walked into the nearest subway entrance while three men on the corner yelled at me. I didn’t realize they were yelling “that entrance is closed!” until people hunkering near the bottom of the steps pointed this out to me in a conversational tone of voice.
I marched toward a locked door while three people loudly told me not to, because as a matter of safety and emotional survival, I have taught myself never to pay attention when strange men yell at me in the street. Is that a kind of hypnotism?
What other kinds of hypnotism am I living every day?
Perri clearly tampered, temporarily, with the 10-year-old’s mind. In the ladies’ room after the show, she stepped into the stall next to me and I heard her quietly counting as soon as she shut the door: “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Okay.” She sounded relieved, as if she had just solved a mildly embarrassing problem.
On my way out the door, as I chatted with Perri about his shows, the woman he had hypnotized passed by. I caught her eye and said, “I enjoyed seeing you onstage. Can I shake your hand? My name is Alaina.”
She politely grasped my proffered palm, and instead of saying her own name, her face split into a gleeful grin.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Lisa,” she managed through her giggles.
To read Judy Weightman's review of Frank Perri's 2015 Philly Fringe show, click here.