By Marcina Zaccaria
Red curtains, a tiny black box space, only about 70 audience members, and the feeling of expectation – these elements were all present when Sebastian Boswell III set the standard for variety arts performance with a NY International Fringe Festival show that includes card tricks, clairvoyance, and having nails literally pounded into flesh.
Under Saint Marks is the right kind of space for this performance. The audience was full of good will during the one hour show in NYC’s East Village, an area that often serves as a home for punk rock, the avant-garde, and performance art.
Boswell began by showing the audience a book about Thought Transference, explaining that words and images could be pulled out of the air waves, to be later said out loud or put on the page. His forms of mentalism include ESP and telekinesis. He quickly brought up audience members to assist with counting cards and drawing exercises. With Houdini and Indian regurgitation specialists as a form of inspiration, Boswell proved that he had mastered even some of the more gruesome acts, including swallowing a pill and then removing it from his eye. His French influence was revealed with a poster of “homme de industrie.”
Boswell’s performance, which won Best in Fest at the 2014 San Francisco Fringe Festival, was breezy and fun. It moved along at a quick pace, each segment lasting roughly 15 minutes. There doesn’t seem to be much that separates someone like Boswell with larger acts. His suit was a bit plain, but his performance style was good and broad, making excellent sense in this quiet, reserved space. Oftentimes, magic acts depend on a suspense and fear, but, instead, Boswell seemed to build a feeling of comfort, togetherness, and ease. Although I could have done without the sock puppet segment, I found each new skill displayed in This Side of the Impossible enjoyable.
In the last moment of the show, Boswell explained that he could put a nail into his body and then freely remove it. First, he asked an audience volunteer to measure the nail. Then, he took out a hammer (used in everyday construction), and began to tap the hammer into his nostril, until 4 1/2 inches of the nail was embedded in his nose. Somehow, Boswell kept his composure and remained talking before finally removing the nail. Although I have always been a fan of variety arts performance, this was a feat that I had never even seen before The New York International Fringe Festival. Truly astonishing.
This Side of the Impossible will be presented at Under St. Mark’s on Tuesday, August 18 at 3:30pm; Thursday, August 20 at 5:15pm; Saturday, August 22 at 3:30pm; and Monday, August 24 at 7pm. Under St. Mark’s is located at 94 St. Mark’s Place in New York City. The New York International Fringe Festival is running until August 30. For information, visit www.FringeNYC.org.