BOTTOM LINE: Souled Out is both a novel and an entertaining evening of theatre. It's half psychic sideshow and half sensational autobiographical revelation, all delivered with the down-to-earth, shoot-from-the-hip flair of Ms. Pattie Canova, the self-described "rock star of tarot."
When the audience comes into the theatre, each member may pick a tarot card from a tray at the entrance. You hold on to your card throughout the show, and if Pattie picks your card, you get to stand up and ask her a question (with a mic, in front of the audience - nothing is private here). She then gives you an instant mini-reading based on the card and her intuitive perceptions of you. The bulk of the show is made up of this psychic reading 'town hall' format. The rest of the show is dedicated to the story of Pattie's life, her development as a psychic, and her eventual acceptance of the tarot as her primary tool for gaining wisdom and insight into herself and others.
The tarot reading sections of the show were at times moving and startling, as when someone asked about whether a young child who had recently died was at peace. At other times, it was a little tedious. In typical human fashion, almost all of the questions were about love and money. With an added New York City twist, a large percentage were also about apartments: whether to stay, whether to move, what to do about problem neighbors, etc.
For the most part, it was enjoyable to hear people's questions and Pattie's perceptions; she has real insight into the human condition, while at the same time she doesn't beat around the bush: "Ask yourself whether you want to be in a marriage where you don't get the support you need."
I don't doubt her psychic abilities; she peppered specifics into her responses that the questioners acknowledged as accurate. But when someone asks the question, "Will I stay with at my job forever?" you have to sigh a little. Do you really need a psychic to tell you what you should be deciding for yourself? The tedium of other people's questions was alleviated, however, by the ever-present hope that your own card might get called, adding a pleasant tension to the experience. The psychic sections of the show were very much an 'all in the family' experience. Pattie called out to her friends in the audience who were astrologers and medical intuitives, and also to her daughter-in-law, niece, stylist, and many former clients in the room. I enjoyed the sense we might as well have been at a family gathering as in a theater.
While all this psychic stuff was a pretty good time, far more engaging was Pattie herself and her life story. Born and bred in Manhattan (in Chelsea, actually, when it was an Irish and Italian slum), she led a rough and tumble life that included orphanages, abuse, and being the personal psychic to the New York mob. Truly fascinating stuff. Pattie is an engaging performer. She is bold, brassy, and utterly frank. She eschews the new age cliches of a soft-voiced, flowing-robed mystic, trading in her turban for a full head of feathered red hair and her caftan for a miniskirt and biker boots. She banters with the audience, interrupts herself frequently, and all-around creates a casual this-show-is-kind-of-just-hanging-out-together-talking-trash-and-tarot experience.
For the most part, I enjoyed her casual 'now where was I?' style, but I would have liked her monologue to be more developed, if not more polished. We only get brief glimpses of her childhood, her first and second marriages, and one of the most fascinating episodes of her life, her tenure as mafioso card-reader during the height of the bloodbaths of the 70's and 80's. The monologue has a clearly developed arc: over the course of her life, Pattie is transformed from an aggressive, abandoned street urchin who also happens to be psychic, to a fully ordained minister, who understands her abilities within the grounding context of the ancient wisdom traditions, yet she never loses her New York edge. It is a satisfying trajectory, I just wanted more of it. Each time the monologue got cooking, it was interrupted by another session of tarot readings.
Yet, I understand the conundrum. Without seeing her intuitive abilities in action her story loses power, because we have no way of knowing whether the psychic aspects of her life are valid, or just fantasies and fiction. Pattie has to prove to the audience that she is bona fide for her life story to make sense; I just would have liked the event to have been weighted more heavily as a theatrical piece and less as a long card-reading demonstration. However, I would guess that I am a minority in that preference. It was clear that much of the audience was there to get a relatively inexpensive reading from a well-known and very pricey psychic reader.
Overall, I would recommend this show to anyone who enjoys or is intrigued by the psychic arts; it will afford you glimpses into the psychic life along with a chance to have your very own mini-reading. Even if you are a skeptic, you will probably enjoy getting to know the big personality belonging to Pattie Canova, who would undoubtedly be fun to hang out with for a couple of hours under any circumstances.
(Souled Out plays at Abingdon Theatre Complex, 312 West 36th St. betw. 8th and 9th Aves., in their Sunday Series. Remaining shows are 10/17 at 7pm, 10/31 at 7pm, 11/7 at 7pm and 12/5 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door, and can be purchased at www.smarttix.com. For more information call 212-868-2055.)