By Tom Wachunas
“Magicians have done controlled testing in human perception for thousands of years.” –Teller
I still remember the morning when I graduated from being a wavering believer in Santa Claus (around 2nd grade, I think) to the sadly disillusioned child who knew better once and for all. Before going to bed one Christmas Eve, I had written a plaintive letter to the jolly elf (asking for his autograph, among other things), sealed it in an envelope addressed with big crayon letters, and clandestinely taped it to the inside of our chimney in a place he couldn’t possibly miss. And there it still was in the morning, untouched. I had a blue Christmas without him. So much for magic.
Fast forward some 30 years to an eight-week course I took in learning how to do magic. Most of the curriculum focused on sleight of hand card tricks and making small objects disappear. I was a fairly poor performer at best, and once again I emerged from the experience sure that there really wasn’t any magic in magic. I did however acquire a deeper appreciation of the demanding discipline needed to smoothly manage not only my own hands, but audience perceptions – the art of misdirection - as well.
These memories kept resurfacing as I watched the Theatre of Magic show unfold on the Players Guild Theatre mainstage. The stars of the evening are Joshua Erichsen, Producing Artistic Director of the Players Guild Theatre, and internationally renowned mentalist Angela Funovits, slated to star in the SYFY Channel competition series, “Wizard Wars,” alongside the legendary Penn and Teller, and scheduled to premiere on August 19.
Erichsen’s illusions are of a more intimate scale than say, David Copperfield’s vanishing of the Statue of Liberty, though no less convincing, including one wherein he apparently amputates his forearm in an act of what he calls “bloodless surgery.” And there is the occasional sense of “standard fare” about the show, as in his Houdini-esque escape from a straightjacket while suspended upside down on a burning rope. Yet the spectacle’s hold-your-breath tension is still thrilling to experience.
Erichsen’s impressivel “bag of tricks” is also woven with plenty of humor and sight gags. At one hilarious juncture, he takes on the role of the student of magic, learning to execute an illusion by listening to step-by-step instructions dictated by the virtual assistant web app, Siri. As she tells him how to fold a bandana, a perplexed-looking Erichsen has apparently heard banana. Undaunted, he proceeds with fruit in hand and…Well, you’ll just have to come and see for yourself.
It’s interesting to note that Angela Funovits is also a medical doctor. So it’s not so surprising to hear her tell the audience that as a mentalist, she regards her feats as a kind of scientific probing, dismissing the notion of “psychic” or cosmic powers at work. In any event, her stage-side manner, as it were, is amiable, fetching and magnetic as she sets up the parameters of her brain-confounding experiments with audience volunteers, often prefacing her instructions with, “This may sound strange, but…” Strange indeed, and call it what you will – mindreading, fortunetelling, old fashioned sorcery - the outcomes are invariably astonishing.
So while I may have attended the show as a cynic, looking for chinks in the armor of staged illusion and so-called psychic phenomena, I left delightedly spellbound and otherwise duly mystified. Theatre of magic, to be sure. Lavish legerdemain, perfected prestidigitation, oh what a wondrous web we weave when first we practice… Where else can we go to have our trusted senses of reality so wildly manipulated and challenged… and genuinely enjoy it? There’s the magic.
THEATRE OF MAGIC, at Canton Players Guild Theatre, 1001 Market Avenue N, with performances Friday June 27 at 8:00 pm and Saturday June 28 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm. Tickets for this Mainstage show are $20 for adults and $15 for those 17 and younger. Tickets for may be purchased online 24 hours a day at www.playersguildtheatre.com or in person at the Players Guild Box Office, located in the Great Court of the Cultural Center for the Arts, 1001 Market Ave N. Tickets may also be purchased by phone: 330-453-7617.