For ostensible readers of this Diary, the following entry contains spoilers about the Derek DelGaudio show, "In & Of Itself." Please do not read if you plan on seeing the show as it might "spoil" your experience.
Yesterday I attended the new one-man show by magician Derek DelGaudio entitled, "In & Of Itself," which is playing at the Daryl Roth Theater in Union Square. I was accompanied by my non-magician friend BJ Rubin. We were both quite entertained and baffled by the production.
Several "bits" were strung together along a thematic line having to do with identity, especially on a personal level, as DelGaudio shared some tales about his past and spun other fictional stories that were equally as gripping. Within this 70 minute monologue were sprinkled magic effects, as well as what I would call dramatic stunts. The show bends traditional classifications and labels - I have seen it described as a one-man theater show, and as a magic show, but it is really both. At the end of the performance, my friend BJ was comfortable calling it a magic show, and I think I would agree, although I would ad "post-modern" to it. I am not going to try and detail every element of the show, but rather select a few highlights and share my thoughts about them in this diary.
One of the three most talked about effects from In & Of Itself was the "I Am" effect. Hundreds of white perforated cards were hung in the lobby beforehand, and theater-goers were asked to select one from the wall and present it to the ticket-taker before entering the theater. People seemed to have fun choosing a card that either described themselves as they were, or as they imagined/wished they could be. All the cards were different.
The cards were torn by the ticket-taker upon entering the theater - she took the descriptive portion while the audience held on to the "I Am" half. It was an easy matter to remember who you were. For example, I was, "a vaudeville entertainer."
Upon reflection, I regret not surreptitiously switching my card with my friend in the lobby or bathroom before giving it to the ticket-taker. This way, we might have at least known whether the information was gathered at the wall or at the entrance to the theater. Ah well. An astoundingly impressive feat, nonetheless, and a real crowd pleaser.
Of course the brick was there, as documented by audience members who chose to seek it out, take a picture and post it online. Pictures of bricks from previous performances at different locations around the city can also be found online. The vanishing of the brick was a fine stage trick (although I can't remember whether the brick was at the center of the table or on its edge before he built the house of cards around it. No matter. The vanish was smoothly executed). However, the second part of the trick - purporting to have the brick re-appear at the named corner in the city, was an inspired piece of theater. The beauty is that that part of the effect, for lack of a better word, was not really a magic trick. I think it's fair to say that the audience speculated that DelGaudio had people race over to the named spot and place a brick there. But he had to be admired for going to the lengths to actually do it! For some, it meant a sly, fun continuation of the show if they chose to seek it out. For others, it was fun to look for a picture of it on the internet. The whole conceit was strong and well thought out, perhaps the most memorable part of the show for many, aside from the killer "event" described below.
The magician then told the man that he was to open the envelope, and that within he would find a real letter written to him (the spectator) from his grandfather (whom the spectator confirmed was still alive) - a letter that was new and that he's never seen before. What on earth was DelGaudio talking about? The magician cautioned the man that he might have an emotional reaction upon reading the letter, that others had in the past. He could read it to himself or out loud. The spectator chose the latter.
The man proceeded to read a heart-warming, loving letter from a grandfather to his son, talking about how proud he was of him and mentioning some specifics about the man's career, etc. DelGaudio pointed out that it was hand-written, and the spectator confirmed it was his grandfather's handwriting, as he stood there on the stage visibly emotional, hands slightly shaking. All he could say was, "How? How did you do that?"
The piece packed an emotional wallop for everyone in the theater, not least of course for the man on the stage. It was intense. DelGaudio created a genuine moment of humanity out of a magic trick - no small feat. As all that was wearing off, my Sherlock Holmes-ian deducing kicked in. How could it not? Unlike the gold brick, this was a true magic trick that begged inquiry. That's not to take away from the emotion it produced, or does it? Perhaps the lack of magic at the end of the gold brick effect allowed for one to appreciate the narrative meaning without the distraction of a mystery. The gut-wrenching impossibility of "The Letter" might, in the long run, diminish the emotions that it produced, But perhaps not. It was a gamble that DelGaudio took that just might have payed off on both measures, a true rarity in the performance of magic.
Anyhow, after the show, as my friend and I were going over the (im)possible scenarios that could lead up to this effect, we spotted the man who received The Letter outside the theater, still holding his letter, still clearly shaken from the experience. While perhaps seeming rude, I nonetheless approached the man and asked what acting school he attended here in New York. He laughed and said he was a real person, and took out his business card to show me. He said he hadn't seen his grandfather for a while, and he offered to show the letter to anyone who cared to see it.
If DelGaudio was willing to go to the lengths required to accomplish the gold brick stunt, he might go much further to do what was required to set up The Letter. The magician Teller once said that a great magician will go to unimaginable lengths to set up an effect, lengths that people might think, "Nah, who would ever do that?" Who? WHO? The guy I just saw perform last night, that's who.