There can only be so many David Copperfields and Lance Burtons and Penns and Tellers in this world—most magicians are lucky to book kids’ birthday parties. But still, people continue to learn the craft, to become acquainted with the culture of magic. They learn tricks that have never been written down, because to write them down would be to risk their discovery, and then they pass them on to the next generation. Magic, at its best, is unchanged from its early days: there’s no need for fancy new technology, just a little smoke and a few mirrors. There are variations aplenty, but the core tricks stay the same: animals and people appear from the ether or disappear without a trace; ropes are cut, then restored; coins are pulled behind ears; pretty ladies are cut in half, then made whole again.
In theory, anyone can do it—but not everyone does. And that’s part of the magic of magic. It’s not surprising that three actors would be so interested in magic that they would want to learn some tricks as a boost to their acting resumes—what is surprising, however, is how deeply they would involve themselves in the magical community. Elephant Room at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, created by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle and performed by them as Louie Magic, Daryl Hannah, and Dennis Diamond, respectively, is the result of what was clearly a great amount of research. The research is less obvious during the show (although much of the magic they perform is quite impressive for actors who have not pursued the craft their whole lives, a few of their most basic tricks were somewhat sloppily done) than it is after: the performance I attended was followed by a talk-back, in which the actors remained in character and took questions from the audience, much of whom seemed to be magic afficionados. Without missing a beat, Cuiffo, Lyford, and especially Sobelle revealed an encyclopaedic knowledge of magic’s history, current performers, and marquee venues, their cheesy lounge lizard alter egos never cracking. The post-show made me appreciate the show itself far more than I would have had I left after curtain call.
And what of the show itself? Those familiar with the performers would know that this would be no straightforward magic show. It was goofy, sometimes silly, sometimes surprisingly melancholy,and always just one shade off from absurd. More than magic, we got performance art: magicians struggling with who they are, trying to execute the perfect trick because really, it was all they had left. I wouldn’t call it a love letter to the craft, but at the very least it was a fitting tribute to the magicians who don’t get Vegas auditoriums—the ones who care more about the craft than they do about the fame.
The final performances of Elephant Room at the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival will be held today, September 17.
Image credit: J.J. Tiziou.