cabaret & variety · disappearing inc. · Ages 13+ · flashing lights · world premiere · one person show · United States

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June 27, 2011 stage and cinema/bitter lemons

My overall impression

Tony Frankel, theatre critic for Stage and Cinema here.

To compensate for his boyhood loneliness and fears, Albie Selznick would hole himself up and diligently practice the art of prestidigitation. In the opening scene of his highly uneven autobiographical solo illusionist show, SMOKE AND MIRRORS, Mr. Selznick effectively conveys the pathos of a sad, young man who is desperately trying to become something special so as to fill the void of a fatherless existence. He deftly intermingles past and present by showing off his extraordinary sleight-of-hand skills while recreating the bedroom of his youth, screaming down to his nagging mother that he is going to bed. Aided by eerie original music by Johnnie Gee Griffing and focused direction by Bettina Zacar, we are immediately excited and on board with this accomplished actor/magician and his magic pigeons.

Soon, however, it seems Mr. Selznick has taken on too much. The show we are promised at the top – that of a performer who uses his art to deal with his personal demons – quickly degenerates into a round-the-world memoir, including a long and astoundingly incongruous section in which Mr. Selznick becomes a martyr to his own generosity involving a pair of tickets to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in London. What happened to the magic? Why are we introduced to Mr. Selznick’s wonderful capabilities, only to have them not be incorporated in this story?

There is some good writing, but Selznick’s own script needs a much stronger through-line, not to mention a dramaturg (is Selznick riffing on his own script when he says words such as “cause,” “um” and “ya know”?). As it stands, the magician’s journey lacks insight and humor, eschewing profundity for a bunch of non-related stories (“facing the fears” doesn’t hold as a through-line because Mr. Selznick comes off as a fearless performer who easily walks on stilts and juggles bowling pins).

The direction and the show become sloppier, evidenced by the lag time in-between stories and the five-foot bunny assistant who seems to have a great deal of trouble seeing out of its bunny mask.

I sorely missed Matt Marcy’s DISILLUSIONEDCONFESSIONS OF A SERIAL MAGICIAN, seen last year. Marcy weaved tidbits about himself throughout his performance – concentrating on self-deprecation, a lot of humor and even more magic; we left Marcy’s performance enthralled, entranced and engaged. Not so with Mr. Selznick, who needs to dig deeper and re-write his script as a play, versus the one-man reminiscence that it is now. While some audience members may be satisfied with the lack of magic, others will surely see that it really is all smoke and mirrors.

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