Review: The Elephant Room

The Elephant Room

April 5, 2012 @ St. Anne’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, New York

Starring Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic, and Daryl Hannah (Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle); Directed by Paul Lazar

The Elephant RoomNot having a clue what to expect, I found a large warehouse in DUMBO, Brooklyn filled with local hipsters – and settled in for a magic show. A few YouTube clips of awkward moments with local TV news anchors and briefly vague NY Times and NY Post theater reviews were all I had to go on. And that advertising poster – it rivals Franz Harary’s legendary “Magic Rocks” – they were trying to be funny, right? They had to be…

And so my expectations were low, when I sat back to watch what turned out to be the best magic show I have seen in years.

Picture three guys in the late 70s sitting on a couch in their basement pretending to be the greatest magicians on the planet. Wayne’s World meets the Society of American Magicians Assembly 181. Napoleon Dynamite meets Penn & Teller. Three goof balls taking “their art” so seriously with all the shtick and hand waves that have become shorthand for “cheesy magician”. They break spontaneously (and regularly) into choreographed routines.

You watch as they monologue their dreams of stardom, their hopes and fears, then watch as they manifest these dreams into cheesy magic routines.

Their dreams are surprisingly similar, I suspect, to those of aspirant magicians. Which should scare us terribly. We magicians will see ourselves in these characters, as the muggle audience around you howls with laughter. Laughter AT them, not with them.

Yet they get the final laugh by fooling the pants off the audience. Again and again.

If magicians know any the three performers, it would be Steve Cuiffo and it would be from the frontispiece of every Gibeciére issue – in which his name is listed as board member of the a Conjuring Arts Research Center. And that should give you a clue as to how studied and calculated this show must have been planned.

It begins with the unexpected suspension of one of the three performers in air.  Followed by a three-shell routine using a Stodare egg like you’ve never seen it before, which segues into an omelette-baking routine in which every component is produced via body loads. Picture a production of a block of cheese, followed by “magical grating” in the hands.

This in turn flows into an extended milk routine with a mirror glass, milk in boot, and milk to lightbulb that all (amazingly, in retrospect) segues from piece to piece, oozing with schmaltz the whole time.

A sands of the desert routine in which the sand is replaced by Kool-aid, the punch bowl becoming clear as the Kool-aid mix is pulled out dry. I suspect this hook is their own invention – it’s a brilliant touch which adds relevance and clarity to the effect. Oh and they get to dance a Jonestown-inspired Kool-aid jive, to boot.

As a near throw-away they recreate a Buster Keaton scene from Sherlock, Jr. that has always been a personal favorite of mine. No visible large illusions, frames, or props – just two people standing on stage in a carefully choreographed dance, just as Buster did with the camera 88 years ago.

And yet all of these disparate scenes, amazingly, make perfect sense in the context of the storyline they have created for these 3 characters.

I recall Penn and Teller once claimed in an interview that Teller had to remain silent, theatrically, in order for folks to know where to look; it was too confusing if they both spoke. If there is one complaint in this production it is this – there is sometimes too much going on. Too many folks talking, performing, moving on stage at once. While it’s possible to stage a circus in the theater, it’s not effective to look like one. If you are looking for “clear cut cameos” you will not find it here.

But it does work. And just when you finally grasp that these goofballs are not to be underestimated, that you will no longer fall prey to their misdirection and let your guard down…they produce a g@# d&%*^d elephant for their namesake room out of nowhere. As a magician I should have sensed the fingerprint and have seen it coming. But I didn’t.

Damn these guys are good.

Prey they perform again elsewhere in a theater near you.

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