On Sunday evening, my friend Isabelle and I went to In & Of Itself, a magic show at the Geffen Playhouse. Glenn Kaino, the conceptual artist for whom we created Lunar French got us tickets, since he was the show’s producer. The performer was magician Derek DelGaudio.
Before the show began, we joined the crowd milling around a wall hung with cards that read “I am a…”. The blank was filled with many different options, and the cards were arranged in alphabetical order. A sign on an easel instructed us to choose the card that represented how we wished to be seen. We stood there for a while, amused, and then I overheard the usher at the door to the theater telling someone that choosing a card was a condition of entry. We started to look a little harder. The choices ranged from “Gaffer” (Isabelle had to explain to me that that was a glassmaker; after looking the word up, though, I don’t think that was the definition foremost in the card makers’ minds) to “Flautist,” from “Nonconformist” to “Foreigner.” There was no “Writer,” but there was “Novelist.” I finally decided on “Cellist.” Isabelle picked “Well-Wisher.”
We were admitted into the theater, where another usher tore off the identity end of our cards, leaving us with “I am” stubs. She piled the cards in a neat stack. Isabelle and I found ourselves sitting in the front row of the very intimate theater. The seats filled, and eventually the usher put the tall stack of cards on the table on stage.
If there’s any chance you’re going to see this show, you should perhaps stop reading. Spoilers for magic shows? Is that a thing?
The set consisted of a wall that looked like it was constructed of gray planks. There were six windows cut into it, with different objects in each one. One contained a golden automaton whose face appeared to be that of…could it be? Frantz Fanon? It was the twin of the Pierrot figure in the moon automaton.
Derek DelGaudio walked on stage and began to tell us a story about a man playing Russian roulette. After finishing the story, he went to one of the windows and took out the half-empty bottle that was sitting in it. He peeled the label off the bottle, folded it into a paper boat, and moved the boat along the back of a chair. A light projected the shadows of the chair and the boat onto the wall, making it look like the boat was bobbing on the ocean. Then he stuck the boat into the back of the chair somehow, so it perched there. He took the bottle and did more shadow games, until at last he passed the bottle in front of the paper boat on the chair. When he lifted the bottle again, the paper boat was floating on the liquid inside of it.
Next, he asked for a volunteer who was willing to come back to the next show, which was to be on Tuesday. Somebody eventually volunteered. Then he called down the volunteer from the last show, who came on stage with a journal in which he’d recorded everything he could remember from the previous show, up until when he’d left. DelGaudio read a few words aloud from his journal entry and then sent him back to his seat.
There followed some nice card tricks. Then DelGaudio told another story–presumably autobiographical?–about growing up in Colorado with his lesbian mothers. He stood next to the window in which a brick was stuck halfway through a pane of cracked glass. Apparently someone threw a brick into their house. After telling the story, he placed the brick, which was painted gold, on the table on which he’d done the card tricks and surrounded it with a little house of cards. He asked the audience to supply the name of an intersection in Los Angeles. We came up with Wilshire & Sepulveda. Then he said the brick was now at that intersection, and he blew down the house of cards to reveal that the brick had vanished.
After the show, I did some poking around online and discovered that people had taken photos of golden bricks found at various intersections around LA. Intersections from previous shows, no doubt. I haven’t been to Wilshire & Sepulveda yet to check myself.
At this point, DelGaudio asked the volunteer who said he’d come back to the next show to leave. Before he left, though, he helped DelGaudio choose a random(-ish?) audience member. DelGaudio invited her on stage and asked her what card she’d chosen. She said, “Dapper Dan man.” (I had to look that up later. And I’ve even seen Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?.) I’m telling this slightly out of order, but DelGaudio climbed a ladder to one of the higher windows, in which lots of envelopes were sitting in a matrix of cubbies. He chose about six letters and presented them to the young woman on stage, pointing out that they were all addressed to him and had some relation written on the back such as “Dad” or “Lawyer.” He said she could pick one, so she picked the one that said “Dad.” He had her imagine some letter-writing scenarios and then finally had her open the envelope.
She slid her finger under the flap, unfolded the letter inside…and sort of curled up on herself in her chair, covering her mouth with her hand. She exclaimed, stared at DelGaudio, almost started crying. Then she read the letter aloud. It was addressed to Zoe (“my name,” she said) and mentioned a family pet and her brother, both by name. It was from her dad. Given her reaction, I imagine the handwriting must have been right. We all stared. This was easily the most impressive moment in the show. I spent a little time later wondering how it all might have worked, but not too much time. I don’t really want to figure it out. Though if I were that young woman, the first thing I would’ve done upon leaving the show is call my dad.
After that stunning bit of magic, DelGaudio asked anyone in the audience who had chosen a card because it was genuinely how they wanted to be seen to stand up. Probably about half the audience rose. Isabelle did. After a few moments’ reflection, I decided “cellist” was not actually how I wanted to be seen, so I didn’t stand.
DelGaudio began going down the front row, telling people what card they had chosen. I forgot to mention: he had moved the stack of cards from the table onto one side of an antique metal scale in one of the other windows early in the show. They hadn’t moved since. There were impressed murmurs as he got the first few people’s cards right. I waited for him to get to Isabelle since I knew what her card had been and also that she, if no one else in the theater, was not a plant. DelGaudio got to her and said, “Well-wisher.”
After doing the first couple of rows, he told people to sit down if he’d gotten their card right. Everyone in the first few rows sat down. He then continued to name the cards of every other person standing. There were probably well over fifty people. One by one, they sat down as he named the correct card. After the letter from dad, this was the next most impressive bit.
And that was the final act. Or almost. He turned back to the set, which lit up. What were once windows had become posters, and these fell to the ground, leaving a blank wall behind them. The stage floor rose up, revealing a mirror on the underside that showed us our own reflection. And that was the end.