Sunday, October 11, 2009

Radnevsky's Real Magic

Photo/Discovering Oz

Illusion is integral to the theater--if a show cannot make us forget, for a while, the seats we are sitting in, then it has failed. For that reason, a play about "real magic" plays at even higher stakes, for even the slightest mistake pulls the audience out of its world. (On a personal note, I am that egghead in the audience determined to "solve" the trick, so I guess I hold shows about magic to an even higher standard.) Radnevsky's Real Magic has a few deft tricks (limes and a sealed envelope), but not nearly enough to sustain a show, and certainly not enough to get away with calling itself "real."

The thing is, Paul Zimet--who wrote and directed the show--seems to know that. His tale of a master magician, Radnevsky (Peter Samelson) and his brash and gaudy protégé, Harry (Dennis Kyriakos), fills the La MaMa "magicopolis" with Ellen Maddow's deliberately cheesy music (from the literal "lyrics" of the more mystical tunes to the blaring lounge-magic songs). The dialogue is filled neither with wit nor wisdom, and David Wiggall's projections are just as campy as Zimet's performance in them. If only this could be chalked up as the sort of necessary distraction that allows "close magic" (i.e., slight of hand) to work; instead, the one trick they pull of flawlessly is the one in which common sense disappears.

Bad enough that the plot is derivative, but the magic seems redundant, too, and it doesn't help when something goes wrong (i.e., you see the quick change taking place behind a mispositioned curtain). Zimet throws in lines about Criss Angel and David Blaine as if that will somehow give Radvensky's old-school magic a rebellious spark, but it only makes the audience more aware of what's missing: charisma. Kyriakos doesn't come across as arrogant or smug--he comes across as playing arrogant; the same goes for Samelson--it's hard for us to call him mad when he so methodically works himself up to that state.

Still, if you forget that Radvensky's Real Magic is seriously attempting to be a play and indulge its script purely as the wrapping paper you have to get through for the magic, it's much easier to be impressed, especially when the tricks do work. This is recommended for children--just not those of all ages.


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