Smoke and Mirrors/by Albie Selznick/directed by Paul Millet/Promenade Playhouse, Santa Monica/through December 16
Since I was a kid, I have always loved magic tricks and sleight-of-hand. It was not until young adulthood and the illusions of Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Sigried and Roy and Lance Burton that I became truly hooked on full fledged theatrically produced magic shows. The first for me, I believe, was Stephen Schwartz' musical The Magic Show, so theatrical in its execution and titillating, that I managed to stay focused for more than two hours. That's quite a long time to keep one's attention on something. The question for me was always: how did they do that? It's incredible; I could never figure it out. Well, it's obviously a case of misdirecting your attention, but the illusions were so entertaining that after a while I didn't care; I just wanted to sit and watch for the sheer enjoyment of it. A really good magic show has more than card tricks or disappearing items like watches, rings and wallets. Pulling doves out of thin air, making objects float through space, juggling, walking on stilts, swallowing razor blades - yikes! - and making humans actually disappear and reappear elsewhere - now that's a magic show of the highest order! Finally, there's one that goes even a step further. It has all of the above and much more. It tells a story of a young boy who overcame his fears to find true happiness in the world of magic. It's a truly personal story, but one that most can relate to, for who isn't afraid of something at one time or another?
Smoke and Mirrors is the story of actor/magician Albie Selznick who is a Level 6 Master Illusionist. Selznick takes his audience back to his childhood. His father died when he was 9 and with his little stuffed rabbit Trix(y) by his side, he would stay up late at night, to the chagrin of his mom, doing...tricks. He desired his father's approval and sought out his spirit. Maybe reaching out to the beyond, to the spirit world, to the dead... was his prime reason for wanting to become a master illusionist in the first place. Selznick matures, but he never loses Trix. In fact, Trix (Bettina Zacar) grows up right along with him, at least in the show! Remember Harvey? Jimmy Stewart's best friend was his pet rabbit. Well, so it is as well for Albie and Trix, at least until he reaches the level of maturity where he can stand alone and really face the world unafraid.
This is a fabulous show for kids of all ages. And there is audience participation! There's an Oracle on the Hill (Rob Martinez) who can guess audience members' fears and favorite toys, and a projection screen on both sides of the stage with actual footage of Harry Houdini and his wife Bessie. Throughout, Selznick performs after the fashion of his idol Houdini with assistance by, when not Trix, Bessie Houdini (Brandy LaPlante, on the night I attended).
Selznick is a fragile creature, funny, warm and vulnerable with the total innocence of a child. In his story and interactions with audience members, he displays all of these qualities to the max. Zacar as Trix, though masked, brings out the joy and caring of a true best friend, which she manifests so gleefully in every nod of her head, hand gesture, or skipping feet. Adam Flemming is projection designer and Jay Lee, video designer. Bettina Zacar is to be thanked doubly, also for her lighting and enticing sound design. And thanks to Cody Bushee who warms up the audience and opens the show accompanied by an introductory guest magic act! All these elements work wonders before our very eyes. But, it is ultimately Selznick who is the star of the evening, winning our hearts in his own special way, as he reaches out to lend a hand. I won't tell you how, but he does manage to help someone in the audience overcome a great fear and also to relate a personal, very moving story about a special boy he met while on tour in New Zealand...it will break your heart and make you realize that when you get right down to it, you have nothing to fear! Don't miss Smoke and Mirrors through December 16!