Review: You'll Be Captivated by the Nice-Guy Gothic of "The Maid and the Mesmerizer"

The Maid and the Mesmerizer

Written by Patricia Lynn

Directed by Jenn Susi

Presented at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatre Spaces

502 W. 53rd Street, Manhattan, NYC

February 29-March 16, 2024

All ticket proceeds from the Wednesday 13 March show will be donated to the Schools Consent Project.

Patrick T. Horn as The Mesmerizer and Patricia Lynn as The Maid
Patrick T. Horn and Patricia Lynn. Photo by DLW Photography NYC.
Language is a contract–we have agreed that letters, words, and sentences mean specific things–and semantics, The Maid and the Mesmerizer reminds us, matter. To this end, the title of Patricia Lynn's new play is not simply alliterative: the titular mesmerist's choice to refer to his stage act as mesmerism rather than hypnosis is deliberate. Hypnosis, he acknowledges, can be a scary concept, and as a successful former hypnotherapist and now stage performer, he can manipulate more than just language. The Maid and the Mesmerizer asks us to think about intimacy, manipulation, consent, free will, and the best of intentions as this rich and compelling play follows two characters through a series of cheap hotel rooms across semi-rural middle America and the early stages of a professional relationship that is predicated almost entirely on trust and that becomes sexual, or maybe romantic, as exemplified by their two uses of the word naked.

This is not a rom-com, though, and the first meeting between the two characters isn't the meet-cute that it might seem to be. The Mesmerizer (Patrick T. Horn) has been told that his act needs a "lovely assistant," and Patricia Lynn's character, also nameless and identified only as The Maid, is auditioning for the role wearing a sexy maid costume. She has come to the interview with a backstory for her character, a whole host of reasons that she should get the job, and a draft of a contract that, independent of the contract prepared by their mutual manager, dictates the terms of their relationship outside of their time on stage. She gets the job despite, or perhaps because of, the ease with which she can be (not hypnotized but) mesmerized, which gives the Mesmerizer pause, and her initially cathartic but increasingly unpleasant and unwelcome experience of finding herself on the Yorkshire moors when mesmerized or, eventually, asleep.

Patrick T. Horn and Patricia Lynn. Photo by DLW Photography NYC.
On a stage that is half black box theater style–several large, multipurpose wooden cubes that are moved around as needed–and half a very detailed but generic bedroom set, the passage of time between hotel rooms is marked by a narrator (Alejandra Venancio), who could be speaking as one or both of their unconsciouses or as an omniscient but participatory narrator like those in the Victorian novels that the Maid repeatedly says that she hates, as well as by text messages from their manager and snippets of reviews, in addition to the renegotiation of and reflection on their personal contract. Illustrating that getting to know someone has to happen on their terms, that forcing intimate discussions is as much a violation of trust as forcing sexual intimacy, the Maid and the Mesmerizer are charming, albeit broken, people, brought brilliantly to life by Lynn and Horn, and so, when he fails to uphold their contract, that violation of trust is both startling and sad. In keeping with the theme of semantics, he refuses to accept the language that she uses to discuss that betrayal; when she tries to talk about her experience, he insists that she should read his notebook and take on the burden of his feelings instead of processing or acting upon hers. All of this builds up to an ending befitting a 21st century Brontë novel, although we'll leave it to you to discover which Brontë.

We don't want to say that you should feel compelled to see The Maid and the Mesmerizer, but we'd certainly say that if you freely consented to attend, it would be an excellent decision and extremely well repaid.
-Leah Richards and John R. Ziegler


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