'In & Of Itself': Theater Review

In And Of Itself Still 1 H 2016
Jeff Lorch Photography
Old tricks, new bag.

Directed by Frank Oz, with music by Mark Mothersbaugh, Derek DelGaudio's unorthodox magic show has been extended a third time at the Geffen Playhouse due to popular demand.

Derek DelGaudio isn’t the kind of magician who saws a woman in half or pulls a rabbit out of his hat, though he probably could do both if he wanted. With his new show, In & Of Itself, the two-time Academy of Magical Arts Award winner has other tricks up his sleeve that don’t involve sleight-of-hand. Or rather they do, but in a broader sense, calling on perspective and context to define or redefine a person, object or act. His is a philosophical approach to illusion filtered through perception — how we view ourselves versus how the world views us, and how each factors into defining who and what we are.

It’s all very heady and will intrigue even those not predisposed to card tricks and the like, but only up to a point. If all you want is to be blown away by mind-twisting illusions, In & Of Itself might leave you a little disappointed.

There's a reason the Geffen programmed the new show before DelGaudio even had a title. The last time the theater booked him, his 2013 off-Broadway show, Nothing to Hide, directed by magic aficionado Neil Patrick Harris, grossed $1 million. The current show, under the direction of Frank Oz, with moody music by Mark Mothersbaugh, has demonstrated similar box-office clout, forcing a third extension through July.

While DelGaudio seems less interested in the “Ta-Da!” moment, that’s not to say his unusual act won’t leave you impressed, as when a member of the audience is given a letter from her brother written in his hand. Of course she could be an actor, but by that point in the show DelGaudio’s self-revelatory monologue has gone a long way toward gaining our trust. Before entering the theater he was merely a face, a name and a title. Since then, he has morphed into another human being right before our eyes. This brand of theoretical magic is laid out in an opening passage about a man who defied the odds at Russian roulette, earning the moniker Roulettista.

On a dark wood-paneled wall behind DelGaudio are six dioramas in cubbyholes, like six chambers in a revolver. The first one frames a figure with a gun in his hand, symbolizing the Roulettista. Others, like the gold brick lodged in a window, symbolize the intolerance his family faced when his mother began living with another woman. Imbued with meaning, the brick is then made to disappear, turning up on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and La Cienega Avenue, we are assured, where, imbued with no meaning beyond that of “brick,” it goes unnoticed.

While many of the tricks of In & Of Itself are impossible to explain, they tend to be modest in scale (often employing only a deck of cards), with lots of setup and only adequate follow-through. A final trick in which a mirror is turned on the audience is a grand thematic payoff, giving us a perspective on ourselves we wouldn’t normally experience. No matter how slight the transformation, each spectator has arguably become a different person by virtue of the passage of time and the events witnessed. Even so, the final gag underwhelms.

While DelGaudio’s approach to his craft is wholly original, it is engaging only in so far as one is interested in magic. Otherwise it quickly becomes the same old thing in a beguiling new wrap. Lucky for the performer (and the Geffen box office), the illusion-inclined are legion.

Currently in theaters, Now You See Me 2 is a magic-themed sequel to the surprise 2013 hit that grossed $234 million, and a third movie is in the works. On TV, two series — Fox’s Houdini & Doyle and Syfy’s The Magicians — serve up illusion on a weekly basis. And although Harry Potter has exited cinemas, a two-part play is premiering in London's West End this summer, a screen prequel is on the way this fall and the boy wizard has become a theme-park mainstay.

So yes, magic is hot. Or maybe it's our perception of it that makes it so.

Venue: Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre at The Geffen Playhouse
Writer-performer: Derek DelGaudio

Director: Frank Oz
Lighting designer: Adam Blumenthal
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Sound designer: James Grabowski
Presented by the Geffen Playhouse