Regular readers of this column know I pride myself on my no spoiler policy. In the case of In & Of Itself , I couldn’t spoil it if I wanted to. Is that because there is no plot? Or because there are six plots? As star Derek DelGaudio would likely agree, it all depends on how you look at it.
I was initially attracted to this production not because of Mr. DelGaudio, but by the notion of an event produced by Neil Patrick Harris and directed by Yoda… I mean four time Emmy winner and puppeteer extraordinaire Frank Oz. What sort of mystery tour could possibly have attracted the backing of these two unique talents? I’ve now taken the wild ride and my conclusion is “Of course. Yes. This one.”
Derek DelGaudio in IN & OF ITSELF (c) Matthew Murphy
When attempting to describe the solo performer to me, my friend Jeremy called Mr. DelGaudio a magician. True, DelGaudio has won the Academy of Magical Arts Award three times. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that term really fits this storyteller/ fantasy travel agent. He uses slight of hand the way most people in society use verbal persuasion. It’s like Spalding Gray and Ricky Jay had a love child. There are no rabbits or white doves in sight, though there is an elephant if one knows where to look. Certainly I have never witnessed anyone else execute an illusion so profound and intimate it made someone cry, as happened to my friend. (OK, I teared up a little too, but only cuz she was.) I can’t imagine the self-preservation routine DelGaudio has developed in order to render this piece 8 times a week. I’m going to need a visit to 16 Handles after just writing about it.
The direction by Frank Oz seems effortless, which is what’s required it in order to float through this evening. There were a few occasions during which I wanted to look both in front and behind me, which was frustrating and perfect. For once the term “production designer,” assigned to A. Bandit — the performance art collective founded by DelGaudio with artistic producer, Glenn Katino — is earned since the set would fit right in at MOMA. Lighting by Adam Blumenthal is mood-transformative despite his techniques being unmasked in DelGaudio’s opening. Original music by composer and Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh hits all the right notes in all the meanings of that phrase.
Even in the season in which I saw Indecent, Sweat and Dear Evan Hanson, In & Of Itself rocked me to my core. Be among the lucky ones to grab yourself a ticket for the run — now extended (for a third time!) through May 6, 2018. Visit http://www.inandofitselfshow.com/#home, especially if you can picture yourself clearly on the steps of the landmark former Union Square Savings Bank having a fairly personal post-show conversation with 199 strangers.
At least that’s what happened to me.
And it was magical.
Before reading on, you should know that I LOVE magic. I have binged on Penn and Teller: Fool Us and have a serious crush on Ricky Jay. I didn’t even hate Now You See Me 2 and it was spectacularly awful. In short, The Illusionists ●Turn of the Century is my kind of crowd pleaser. I am obviously not alone. This is the third time this franchise has hit Broadway for the holidays and for the most part it delivers.
The usual magical acts are all here: a lady sawed in half, a floating ball that lights up a backdrop night sky, and birds out of handkerchiefs and in one case out of another bird. While they are all skillfully executed it is not for them you should pay Broadway prices. It is the more uncommon, and in some senses subtle performers, that are the bigger draw, starting with The Grand Carlini. This ingenious character — a magician marionette who performs his tricks through the hands of Spanish illusionist Justo Thaus — is not only the most original in the line-up, but also the most firmly planted in the “Turn of the Century” portion of the title. The effect is captivating and a true marvel. I have deliberately chosen not to include a photo of this section so that it can reveal itself to you in real time.
Another memorable duo is Dana Daniels (the Charlatan) and his psychic parrot Luigi. Their family-friendly routines are so hilarious I was actually able to make someone laugh until they cried just by describing them. A completely different kind of cute arrives in the form of Jonathan Goodwin, The Daredevil. (Apparently there was at least one Equinox open in 1903.) He is a returning character and audience favorite from The Illusionists’ last New York run. As the only member of the cast who does not rely on slight on hand, he delivers the most gasp-inducing moments in the show with his Houdini-inspired stunts. Among the more familiar acts, Austrians Thommy Ten and Amelie Van Tass (The Clairvoyants) stand out. You may have seen these “what am I holding” theatrics before, but never with such a level of detail. No wonder these partners were awarded the infrequently bestowed title World Champions of Mentalism.
Much of the suitably over-the-top atmosphere comes from the choice of The Palace Theater as home base. The 1913 vaudeville house was renovated by the Nederlanders in the mid-sixties, but retains its somewhat gaudy features. These have been enhanced by scenic designer Todd Ivins. (A few of the parlor tricks are carried out in an actual parlor setting.) At times, handheld cameras feed an ornate center screen in order to project smaller movements beyond the first few rows. Angela Aaron’s period costumes add lovely flair as does the eerie music of Evan Jolly.
The quick pace and ever-changing mood of The Illusionists ● Turn of the Century make it an obvious choice for parents seeking special seasonal entertainment that everyone can enjoy. With its good-natured spectacle, the show also seems like great date material. Performances run through the first of the year at the Palace Theater. For tickets and information visit http://www.theillusionistslive.com/turnofthecentury. Remember to dress well; about a dozen audience members wound up on stage.