The Enigmatist
Review by Mavis Manus

It’s nerd heaven at the Geffen Playhouse, with magician and New York Times “cruciverbalist” (crossword-puzzle creator) David Kwong at the center of it.

Kwong, a charismatic solo performer, has brought his traveling show THE ENIGMATIST to L.A. after a successful 2019 New York run. Kwong does all kinds of magic tricks (with cards, dollar bills, spoons, cell phones, videos, etc.) while addressing the audience in a crisp, lightly comic way. What distinguishes him from other magicians is his superior intellect, his deft way with cryptology and Scrabble. That’s right, Scrabble: the game his mother taught him when he was seven. He now plays the game on the Master level and proves it by creating a crossword puzzle using only Scrabble words right before our eyes (on a video screen)–-in less than three minutes!

Kwong has a special interest in George Fabyan, who made a fortune in textiles in 1915 and used those funds to build a castle in Riverbank, Illinois, where he indulged in his love of magic, levitation and mysteries. There was much that was bogus about Fabyan, who called himself Colonel even though he had never served in the army. The enigmatist of the show’s title, he invited conjurors, mystics and prestidigitators to stay at his castle and work on cracking various literary and religious codes and ciphers. Two of his acolytes, William Friedman and Elizabeth Spencer, became disillusioned with him after he took credit for their accomplishments. They departed and later became famous code-breakers for the U.S. army.

Working on a set designed to resemble a living room and with the (masked) audience sitting at tables in cabaret fashion, Kwong prowled the stage, pulling off one dazzling trick after another, often with the help of audience members. It made for an enjoyable and remarkable evening.

(Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. Call 310-208-6454 or visit