Critique of the Week

A magical review of what seems to be a magical show, for what is most definitely a time that needs lots of magic.

SMOKE AND MIRRORS
M.R. Hunter – EyeSpyLA

In psychology, magical thinking refers to the belief that one’s thoughts can effect reality or bring about change through ritual or ascribing power to objects or seeing causal correlations that might not be otherwise related. It is often found in children, especially when grieving the death of someone close to them, like a parent. Make-believe and fantasy become coping mechanisms, occasionally rendering the child to create an imaginary friend in lieu of the departed, or to strongly believe that if they perform some act or feat, the deceased will return.

Accomplished performer and lifetime member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood, Albie Selznick, is the poster child for magical thinking. His theatrical, semiautobiographical magic show has less to do about the sleight of hand compared to the weight of the human heart as he confidently leads the audience through a fantastic journey of grief, perseverance, triumph, and ultimately, facing one’s fears. What are you most afraid of? For some, its fear of heights, darkness, but for Selznick, it’s losing the last connection he has with his father, magic.

Sensitively directed by Paul Millet, Selznick weaves in and out of character from the start, engaging the audience as himself with self-deprecating wit and charming appeal. Children respond well to Selznick’s accessible humor and perhaps because they can identify with his vulnerability when he reverts back to a thick tongued nine-year-old clutching his faithful companion, a plush white rabbit aptly named Trixy. His father, a psychiatrist, gives his son a magic kit before his untimely death, and from then on the boy’s fate is predetermined as he experiments and grows into real, professional magician—his father ever present in his mind.

Aided by his stuffed animal, growing with the enormity of its presence into a giant rabbit (played by Teena Pugliese), Albie the child graduates from simple parlor games to a mature magician complete with disappearing doves, levitation, juggling and the wondrously inexplicable. His journey is marked by understandable fears as he strikes out on his own, undergoing the various trials of reaching a Level 7 Master Illusionist at the Magic Castle. Having learned by his father to put his fears inside a “Fear Box,” Albie faces the hardest trick of all, letting go and saying good-bye, an illusion only of the mind but never fully enough to fool the heart.

The multi-dimensional show touches on a myriad of emotions without any guile or sleekness. It is at times, almost raw, spontaneous and chockfull of delightful surprises. For those expecting to see a well-oiled machine of wizardry prowess, the kind that dazzles in its elusive trickery, “Smoke and Mirrors” does bring spectacle underpinned with tender feeling and soulful longing. Self-referential, Selznick never lets the dramatic moments overtake the impish glee, the fervor he has for performing magic by encouraging laughter, even at ourselves and the twists and turns of life and, of course, our phobias.

One of his more astounding acts is the “Oracle on the Hill” portrayed by video inside a huge orb. The Oracle entreats and flirts with the audience, spookily so, as he attempts to uncover an audience member’s secret fear. It runs a tad long given the balance of Selznick’s other acts, but it is well-worth the humorous and perplexing ride. Kids seem to really get into this but adults will be left puzzled too.

It is not often that a magician shows his hand, his total heart and deep affection for the arts. Magical thinking provides answers when there are none but any magician worth his wand provides the stuff that dreams, wishes and childlike wonder are made of, even for a moment. Albie Selznick proves that behind all the smoke and mirrors, what is real cannot always be seen, but is felt and that is what makes true magic.

 

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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