Nothing Here is Real – Entertaining Misdirection

“My goal is to do two things: I need to convince you that things are happening up here that are not really happening and my other goal is to the complete opposite, to convince you that things that are not happening up here are actually happening. When those things happen simultaneously – woof/pow- magic.”

Magician/Mentalist Gary Ferrar knows that experiences are being manipulated every day of our lives. Retail is an obvious example. End caps near registers are full of less expensive things we don’t need, ripe for impulse buying. Obstructions force us to take a certain route chancing upon products for which we weren’t looking. Shelf placement affects as does color, store music, and being able to touch.

Visual cues are particularly powerful. Think of drug commercials that feature happy, healthy people while a voice-over lists potential physical side effects. Joe McGinniss’s The Selling of The President analyzed the way packaging Richard Nixon got him elected. Seat belts on, we’re in for lots more of this.

It’s all misdirection: the surreptitious action or process of directing someone ‘s attention away from or to certain things/activities.

Ferrar is up front about what he does, even intermittently pointing out tells that help him discern what we’re thinking. (A tell is a gambling term referring to change in a player’s behavior that gives clues as to what type of hand he or she might be holding. )

When an audience member (chosen by intuition) is asked to choose a drink from the bar menu, Ferrar watches his throat constrict imagining a swallow. This ostensibly leads the performer to identify first vodka, then a citrus based concoction. The smallest unconscious twitch, direction of gaze, movement of hand indicates choice to an experienced eye. Ok, you might shrug, but the “bit” is not over. Additional reveal is the cherry on top.

We’re told everything is scripted, that Ferrar knows beforehand what responses will be. Offered a shot of whiskey at the top of a “trick,” a patron accepts. Of course she accepts, he says. No other reply is possible. Has he scoped the room for a whiskey drinker so as not to be refused? (There are no assigned seats.)

Most magician/mentalists learn effects first, developing personal qualities and attuning to audience susceptibility along the way. Style and patter are as important to a show of this nature as anything conjured. Over time, similar illusions are manifest by multiple performers.  I’ve seen a borrowed wedding ring cut out of a closed orange and removed from a sealed box sequestered in a theater lobby. Personal stories draw us in. Manner is paramount.

Ferrar evolved in reverse. A trained actor before pursuing magic, timing, humor, and pronounced accessibility is well honed. Even pauses, he tells us, are engineered to simulate spontaneity. Reading a grandmother, he admits information was secured on the internet. Acting sold the moment.  Don’t be fooled, the professional seems to say, even as he fools us. Everything I do here tonight relates only to this evening, this room.

A woman is asked to collect index cards randomly given out as we entered. “You look way too eager,” he notes dispensing with an eager young man. My companion’s reads: Nothing is real. Cards are proffered and gathered in no apparent order, yet when read aloud, become succinct narrative. Not only that, they identify Fiona by name and sweater color. Jaws drop.

Misdirection is demonstrated with a coin and then a small red, rubber ball seamlessly moving between hands, pocket, and beneath a cup. Assembled eyes are glued. Some catch what’s going on, others not so much. (This goes on perhaps a bit too long.) Sleight-of-hand inevitably one-ups assumptions. Technique is not new, personality carries it off.

Eventually the ball morphs into a succession of unexpected things. One, the marvelous payoff of an earlier story, recalls to me an effect for which iconic magician Max Malini was renowned. Malini would borrow a man’s hat, place it on a surface and later expose a block of ice beneath.

Crowding around, we see predictions pan out on a nineteenth century pool table. The seemingly unprompted choice of a word in a newspaper yields an original, pop surprise. Again, though action is familiar, outcome is not. We’re asked to think of a “real” point in our day. Three are gleaned.

Ferrar is dynamic without pressuring. He manages to skirt the irritation factor evoked by many shows based on participation. Pointing out contrivance adds intrigue. There’s enough originality for a congenital magic fan. The very mixed audience is captivated. Nothing Here is Real is puzzling and fun.

When did the show end, when did it begin?… What if you continue to remember out there, you’re in the middle of a magic show….”

(Click to read Alix’s interview with Gary.)

Admission comes with two drinks at the downstairs bar. Order off the regular, not pre-theater menu upstairs and secure a 15% consideration.

Photos courtesy of Gary Ferrar

Nothing Here is Real
Written and Performed by Gary Ferrar
Directed by Harrison Kramer
With Tegan Brown
Oxbow Tavern
240 Columbus Avenue
The last Tuesday of every month

About Alix Cohen (1686 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, TheaterLife, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.