That’s a Good Trick

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Watching a one-man theatrical magic show can be a little bit like watching a new musical. Instead of a series of songs strung together with some narrative throughline, you’re watching a magician do a handful of tricks and tell you a story to link them. It's not the songs or tricks that matter - those are usually impressive. What matters is what's stringing them all together. As a seasoned director once told me, "you've got no string of pearls if the thread's lousy."

Fortunately, Derek DelGaudio’s magic show In & Of Itself at the Geffen Playhouse begins stringing things together before you even make it into the theater.

Just after your ticket is ripped, you're ushered over to a giant whiteboard with little hanging tags. Every tag begins with the same words "I am." What follows is an alphabetical grab bag of possible answers. From the straightforward "I am a teacher" or "I am a doctor" to the more fanciful "I am a space cowboy" or "I am a moonshiner." You're instructed to pick from one of the probably 200 possibilities.  

Without giving anything away, pick carefully because your choice matters - that's the whole point.

It's a beautiful act of misdirection and inclusion. Before you've even sat down, Mr. DelGaudio has gotten into your mind. He's got you asking questions, "Who are you?" He has you wondering. The focus has shifted from the performer to the audience. You're a part of the show, not in "may I have an assistant from the audience" sort of way - though there's a little of that - but in a more profoundly imaginative way.

About a third of the way through the show, Mr. DelGaudio asks for someone from the audience who's willing to come back to the next show. After he's gotten a volunteer, he calls down another audience member, apparently, the guy from last night's show, who comes down onstage with a large book. The book is explained as the story that's being written together with the audience. The magician humbly explains that he's only half of the equation. That the story in this book is written each night by a new audience member. It's the story of what that audience member imagines the end of the show to be.

There's something magical about that thought.

Not in the traditional card trick or vanishing rabbit way but in something far more profound and theatrical. Even the most remarkable performers can only do 50% of the work. Everything that happens onstage for any play, is only half the story. The audience creates, if you allow them, the real drama, the real illusions, the real emotions.  

I'll leave it to others to talk about the handful of "tricks" that Mr. DelGaudio performs across the 65 minute show. For me, I'm more impressed by how he includes the audience in questions more exciting than a card trick: questions of identity and symbolism and belief.

Said differently, when the thread's as impressive as the pearls - you've got a good show.

"In & Of Itself" plays at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through July 24th.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Run time: 65 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: (Jeff Lorch Photography)