Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Creating Illusion

Photo/Zack Brown

Oh, that Jeff Grow. He's far too charming to even need an ace up his sleeve. Or your money, somehow stuck into a can of wasabi peas. And yet, at least so far as the latter, it seems as if he's been gifted with both: a con man's patter, but a magician's touch. As he explains in his show, Creating Illusion, what makes him different from hucksters like ad-men is that he acknowledges up front that he's going to lie, and it should therefore come as no surprise that he does. And yet, watching him light an invisible cigarette--that suddenly sparks into a real one--it seems that the real difference is that this is a con man we don't mind getting conned by.

His trick is fairly obvious--he plays a casual Joe Schmo, apologizing from the moment he steps on stage, endearing us with promises of secrets and confidence, and using his relaxed posture and unassumingly old-school outfit to hide the deftness of his palms. Even his verbal tic, in which he constantly reaches out to the audience with a "Yeah?" (as in, "You follow me?"), must be deliberate.

But while his affects may be obvious, his effects are hardly so. That cigarette twirls invisibly through the air. Crumpled-up bills travel through solid steel cans. Sundered newspaper reassembles itself, and though Grow continues to emphasize that he's just playing with our perception (he likens it to a bar bet involving the circumference of a pint glass's rim), his performance is what makes this more than a mere Escherian optical illusion.

There are really only two things to complain about, and they revolve around the same thing. First, Creating Illusion is only an hour, give or take, and any audience willing to show up at an underground bar at 10:00 at night is more than willing to stick around for more. Second, much of Grow's performance revolves around a rather simple "mind-reading" trick, and while he executes it nicely, it keeps the show from being as varied as it could be. This goes for the play's punchline, too; it's not as if there's a really strong plot--Grow's framework for performing the tricks is loose enough to accommodate improvisation and riffs (as when an audience member answered their phone and started talking)--and yet, Grow ends the evening with a far less satisfying trick than the penultimate one. Oh, that Jeff Grow, indeed.

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