More than a Magic Show
Anyone who goes to The Magic Play expecting a magic show is in for far more than they bargained for, quite literally. First off, The Magic Play is a first-rate magic show, with some tricks that will leave you scratching your head for days. The most surprising and magical part for me, however, was the strength of the play that frames it, with relatable characters and some heartbreaking storytelling on themes of love and loss. Anyone with father issues (and who does not have this to some degree in our culture of paternal absence?) will connect with the pain of the magician who seems to be able to grant everyone’s wish except his own.
What Fourth Wall?
The story is told, true to the genre, in a presentational fashion—there is no fourth wall here. The Goodman’s more intimate Owen theatre allows the performance to switch seamlessly between direct address, flashback, and audience interaction. Magic tricks are interspersed throughout and, at their best, support the narrative of loss, disappearance, and deception. The real delight, however, was to watch the narrative emerge from them: a truly painful story of two lovers whose pasts first bring them together and then tear them apart.
The Magic Play Has All the Tricks
Brett Schneider astounds with both his illusions and his portrayal of the heartbroken magician. One leaves the theatre wondering if there is anything he cannot do. Sean Parris is the yin to Mr. Schneider’s yang as his athlete lover, and the two have a stage chemistry that makes their attraction for each other—as well as their sad parting--seem inevitable. Andrew Hinderaker’s play hits all the right notes, organically blending magic with narration so that the two inseparably support each other. The set and lighting have their own tricks in store, transforming from Chicago stage to Olympic pool to Vegas casino with a kind of effortlessness that mirror’s Schneider’s sleight of hand. House lights bring the audience into the frame at several points throughout the show, as Schneider invites you to join in the illusions.
The only part that did not quite live up to the level of an otherwise spectacular show for me was the much-hyped ending. There is a truly astounding trick in which the audience participates, but for me it bordered on being just a cool gimmick rather than serving the storytelling as well as it could have. I wanted an ending that would send me back into the sense of longing and loss so central to the play, and instead found myself in the midst of a utopian moment which, though lovely, slightly missed the mark. And though these themes are present in the denouement, they get a bit lost in showmanship and spectacle, pulling focus from the relationships so central to the story.
Decide for Yourself
That said, this play does so many things right, that I can emphatically recommend seeing it for yourself and making up your own mind. It is a truly mesmerizing feat and should not be missed.
Oct. 21 - Nov. 20
The Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn, Chicago
See the Goodman's website for showtimes and availability:
About the Author:
Derek Barton is a Chicago-based performance artist, educator, and director of both film and stage productions. A graduate of Northwestern's Performance Studies doctoral program, his
work explores issues of sustainability, social justice, and artistic
intervention in public space.
This review was excerpted in Theatre in Chicago.