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The start time for Thursday’s opening of David Kwong’s The Enigmatist was listed as 8 p.m., but he was not the first face to appear on stage at that time. In a surprise showing, Geffen Playhouse artistic director Matt Shakman made his way into the lights of a carefully curated set inside the venue’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater to deliver a special message.
In doing so, he said it was atypical for someone in his role to address the audience prior to a performance but, “this is not a normal night.” It was a special one as the Geffen hosted an in-person audience for an opening night celebration for the first time amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Shakman, hot off an Emmy nomination for his directing work on WandaVision and a new gig helming Star Trek, wanted to offer an official and warm welcome along with a genuine message of gratitude to the capacity crowd of donors, supporters, press and enthusiastic guests. “All of you are so important to the Geffen community,” he said, singling out sponsors, alumni, board members and community partners. “Thank you for keeping the Geffen going. I’m really proud to be back doing what we love to do here.”
Shakman then passed the mic to front-of-house manager Mel Yonzon, who also expressed excitement to see everyone in their seats (“This is so fun!”) while also taking a moment to reiterate the night’s rigorous COVID-19 protocols that made such an event possible. Those included proof of vaccination, required masking throughout the night, proof of a negative PCR test to attend the show’s afterparty, and designated beverage stations. All appeared orderly and efficient, with a handful of guests lining up early at the check-in desk in order to get started with four pre-show puzzles — two outdoors and two in the lobby — that served as a primer for the mind-bending show.
Then came showtime. Kwong, in a gray suit and tie, walked in quietly from Door A to kick off his 90-minute immersive show, which features puzzles, cryptology, magic, card tricks and audience participation. The renowned magician showed off the skills he used to bolster a sold-out run of The Enigmatist in New York in 2019. Also on display: Kwong’s mastery of storytelling and crossword puzzles, the latter of which he uses as a crossword constructor for The New York Times. Buzz is already strong for Kwong’s West Coasts debut for the show as The Enigmatist has already been extended, with performances continuing through Nov. 14.
One rather enthusiastic and vocal guest was so impressed by what she saw on Thursday night that she didn’t wait for the curtain call to share a reaction. After one of Kwong’s jaw-dropping displays, the guest jumped out of her seat for a solo standing ovation. The full audience followed about 20 minutes later when the show officially wrapped.
See images from The Enigmatist below.
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