Magicians have long since left behind pulling rabbits from hats except at young children’s birthday parties. These days notables include a variety of artists. There are performers who execute large scale theatrical feats like David Copperfield, showmen pushing their own bodies and minds to yogic extremes like David Blaine, close-up experts who eschew the expected card tricks for more creative prestidigitation – Steve Cohen (The Millionaire Magician), and innovative teasers such as Penn and Teller whose illusions can be particularly artistic wry. I’m excluding those who inevitably know your card, duplicate your drawing, and cut open an orange to discover the borrowed ring. (Historian/magician Ricky Jay is a category in and of himself.)
A fifth eclectic group includes practitioners who push the envelope of the craft by offering effects whose skill only other magicians can fully appreciate; mentalists immersed in psychology, paradox, and susceptibility; and those who use stories- metaphor, and/or myth to captivate and subliminally illuminate. We have two of these pioneers in New York at the moment, Britain’s Derren Brown at The Atlantic Theater and Derek DelGaudio at The Daryl Roth.
DelGaudio, whose highly conceptual 2013 Nothing to Hide (with Helder Guimarães) played New York’s Pershing Square Signature Center to acclaim, briefly showcases the finesse with playing cards that defined that appearance. When he was a boy, the nonchalant artist tells us, it took him 8 years to learn all the ways to hold a deck of cards. Here, however, the video-aided discipline is a small part of the whole.
As one enters the theater there are 1000 cards hanging from hooks. Each says: “I Am” on the top portion and describes someone on the lower. Examples: Traveler, Dad, CEO, Artist, Engineer, Skeptic, Outsider, Romantic, Prostitute, Very Good Snuggler, Clean Freak, Interpreter, Observer… you get the idea. Audience members are asked to choose one. An usher then takes the lower part and leaves you: I Am. In & Of Itself is bookended by use of these cards.
“I don’t expect any of you to believe anything that happens in this room tonight or anything I have to say….We’re here because I once heard a story in a bar in Spain…” It’s a fine story, one in which DelGaudio brings to our attention the fact that he takes risks. Things run so smoothly, this is not, to some, apparent.
There are 4 recessed windows on the stage (until they disappear.) They contain: an automaton/mannequin with a gold face mask and hidden weapon, a white wolf or dog head whose mouth holds playing cards. “There’s a light that happens as the sun hits the horizon. It’s called the time between dog and wolf…”- which are you?, a bottle half filled with liquid in which a little boat folded out of its label soon unfathomably floats, and post office cubbies filled with letters, one of which turns out to be decidedly personal for a random audience member. Oh, and somehow DelGaudio knows who chose which defining card at the top of the show. Including me and mine. Which is quite the ending!
Adam Blumenthal’s Lighting Design and Mark Mothersbaugh’s Original Music give the show an eerie feel without seeming trite.
In & Of Itself is literate and intriguing. Derek DelGaudio’s onstage persona is serious. He’s not trying to fool us so much as to make us aware. The boat effect, though charming, doesn’t seem to relate to a story and, despite impressive manipulation, I could have done without the inevitable cards. Everything else follows as the night the day weaving an artful spell.
Photos by Michael Murphy
In & Of Itself
Written and Performed By Derek DelGaudio
Directed by Frank Oz
Production Design- A. Bandit (uh huh)
Daryl Roth Theatre
101 East 15th Street
Through June 18, 2017