Warning: Review contains one “spoiler.”
Not long ago, I saw a TV show that revealed some of the “secrets” of magic illusions, with a “masked magician” and his assistant demonstrating the way to saw a woman in half. While the revelations may have been reassuring, they also felt like a betrayal. We don’t want to really know how magicians do their tricks. The whole idea is to accept that some things cannot be explained.
In “Extraordinary Deceptions,” Michael Gutenplan admits at the outset: “Everything that you’re going to see is a trick.” But he adds, it’s a matter of an audience’s willingness to suspend belief and accept the idea that there can be “miracles.” He also shares a basic fact with the audience: “Magic is not knowing what is going to happen next.”
Gutenplan’s hour-long show is composed of fairly familiar tricks, mostly involving that old magic stand-by, cards. He shuffles cards and a card from the bottom of the pack appears at the top. He finds a card by listening to its “sound” as he shuffles. Cards and other objects appear and disappear and reappear in strange places. Information that Gutenplan could not possibly know appears as if by – you guessed it – magic. Watching these comfortable old tricks, it’s easy for one to settle back in one’s seat and say, “I think I know how he did that.” Yet one realizes that there is no hard and fast proof of how he did that. One’s eyes are glued to Gutenplan (and why not? He is certainly personable, neatly dressed, and has a great sense of humor), but somehow, maybe during a blink of the eyes, one has missed that moment when he did something that made a card disappear and then reappear inside a balloon.
Rather than using a trained assistant, Gutenplan uses volunteers from the audience. This is foolproof, since your own spouse, friend, date, child, or parent can’t possibly be a “plant.” Almost every audience member at the performance I attended participated in a trick, even if it was only supplying a date or place or picking a phone number out of the Yellow Pages. Therefore, when Gutenplan’s tricks revealed said dates, places, and phone numbers, innocently suggested by complete strangers, it had to be believed that he was just incredibly clairvoyant. Or just a darned good magician.
One audience member did try to call Gutenplan’s bluff. Gutenplan had someone pick a card from a pack and tear off a corner, which he was to keep as a “receipt.” Another audience member was asked to find a wooden box under a seat, bring it to the stage, and open it. In the box was a card with a piece torn out of the corner. “You put that card in the box before the show,” said the audience member, smugly. Gutenplan then asked the other man for the “receipt,” the torn-off piece. It fit perfectly into the corner of the card found in the box. Don’t mess with this man’s magic. He knows what he’s doing.
Two final illusions in the show involved a bit of daring. Gutenplan asked an audience member to shoot a “bullet” (actually a paintball) at him, which he “caught.” This stunt required a volunteer with some firearms experience. Also, a volunteer (inevitably female) was sawed in half. And true to the spirit of surprise, Gutenplan’s saw-in-half technique was not the same as the procedure shown on TV. But rest assured, everyone survived the performance and walked out of the theater mystified, but amused.
“Extraordinary Deceptions” runs at the Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, 310.396.3680, through December 30.