Review: At Liberty Magic, Noah Sonie Challenges What is Real and Mystifies Perception


Driving down to Liberty Magic to see Noah Sonie in Trust No One, I listened to Peter Gabriel’s music as he had announced his North American tour earlier that day. In his 1977 song, “Solsbury Hill,” he sings, “I did not believe the information, I just had to trust imagination….” Naturally, I sang along but dismissed the line because I had heard that song hundreds of times.

Noah Sonie | Pittsburgh Cultural Trust photo

Fast forward twenty minutes later as Sonie began his show, running through April 9 at Liberty Magic, posing the questions, “who do you trust” and “what do you believe to be real” to the audience.

Meant as a silent moment of reflection, Sonie continues his line of inquiry by prompting the audience to consider whether or not outside stimuli or external factors can influence their decisions. Sonie establishes this notion well. He reminds us that in our current moment, we are surrounded by more content, information, and opinions veiled as facts than ever before. We move about daily talking, reading, choosing, buying, doing, scrolling, and “liking” with a feeling of autonomy, but are we genuinely autonomous beings? Are our choices indeed a matter of free will, or are we subject to patterns of persuasion and manipulation so subtle and nuanced that they are as undetectable in our daily lives as a molecule of air?

Sonie’s 80-minute magical tour de force combines clairvoyance with sleight of hand, with each trick making us consider if another force, human or AI, can control how we react to minor changes, questions, or shifts in our environment. Sonie uses everyday objects such as magazines, an audience member’s driver’s license, Target gift cards, an iPhone calculator, a seemingly magical sketch pad to defy logic, and a can of Pepsi to make you question your perception of immediate reality.

Sonie goes off script based on the audience’s reactions, and his natural personality feels much more relaxed and engaging than the scripted portions of his show.

His tricks are natural and fluid, with a rewarding pay-off even if the set-up is a bit syncopated. Sonie even goes as far as to offer a pragmatic definition of hypnotism beyond “just making people fall asleep when you snap your fingers.” While Sonie does not put the entire audience in a fixated trance, he explains that hypnosis is hyper-focused on a single object, leaving you susceptible to auditory influence and input. He demonstrates this approach with two volunteers, offering a firsthand experience of the power of the mind’s perception of auditory input.

Unlike some previous residencies, Sonie does not delve deep into his past nor recall many stories from his youth. His show is scripted but not centered around a mythical character or tale, and Sonie relies on the details of our present moment to propel his show forward. With commentary on racism, corporate greed, and product placement and how companies infiltrate our thoughts (I promise you will never view a Pepsi can the same), “Trust No(ah) One” is timely and timeless as this level of behavioral manipulation is not new.

One trick after another, Sonie continues to remind us that seeing is not always believing or trusting. Things are never as obvious as they appear, and maybe our thoughts can be controlled to dictate reality under the guise of free choice or free will. If our realities and behavior can in fact, be so easily controlled, manipulated, and predicted, then does “team human” even stand a chance against big tech and Big Brother, or are we all operating under a controlled sense of blind faith?

Perhaps Peter Gabriel was correct nearly 45 years ago, singing we cannot “believe the information,” thereby discrediting the ability to truth others, leaving only trust in our imagination and perception of a given moment.

Just remember, “it’s never what seems obvious!”

Librty Magic is a project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust – Noah Sonie in Trust No One has performances now through April 9, 2023. For more information and tickets visit: https://trustarts.org/production/82978/noah-sonie-in-trust-no-one

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  1. What’s On Stage Pittsburgh for the week of March 13th, 2023 to the end of April

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