Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Vinny DePonto
Photo by Jeff Lorch
Vinny DePonto may be described simply as a mentalist, but that ignores the psychological insights and technical knowledge of the brain he shares with the audience in his captivating work Mindplay, now in the intimate Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage in Washington. The theme of his performance boils down to four words, which appear on a banner above the stage: "What's on your mind?"

What DePonto is really examining and demonstrating is the process of memory itself. He wrote the work with John Koenigsberg, while director Andrew Neisler maintains the tempo of the unending flow of ideas.

While sharing stories from his past, DePonto describes how the brain compartmentalizes what it remembers and emphasizes that memories are not frozen: they change subtly each time a person recalls them. He describes the malleability of memory under the influences of society, other external stimuli, even (in extreme cases) parasitic microbes that can rewire a host animal's brain.

Lest that sound professorial and off-putting, know that Mindplay is nothing like that. Before the performance begins, the ushers invite audience members to provide minimal information on cards that are then sealed in envelopes. DePonto picks a few of the cards during the performance and uses the selected volunteers to demonstrate different mental properties. As he says, "Our strength comes from the things we don't know."

Along the way, DePonto uses elements of Sibyl Wickersheimer's set to present some of his insights in concrete form. (Many are amusingly low-tech by current standards, including a corded dial phone, a carousel slide projector, a gooseneck lamp, hardback books, a vintage answering machine, a succession of portable tape decks–and a lot of balloons.) Pablo Santiago's lighting design and Everett Elton Bradman's sound design add to the sense of DePonto taking the audience on a guided tour of the mind and how it works.

Mindplay runs through March 3, 2024, at Arena Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit

Created and performed by Vinny DePonto
Written by Vinny DePonto and John Koenigsberg
Directed by Andrew Neisler