The magic show is an art form as ancient as theatre itself. In some of its oldest (and not so old) iterations, it is not so much “entertainment” as seduction, and may even border on the religious. When Harry Houdini was at the height of his fame, many people believed he had supernatural powers, a belief that he was sincerely determined to discourage. This was unusual in a trade whose business is hokum. It is certainly true that, throughout history, unscrupulous persons have used the tricks of the stage magician to fleece the faithful, from spirit mediums to spoon benders to channelers (which is not to suggest that all such persons are necessarily fakes). Many of us (all of us on some level) have a deep desire to believe. We want to be enchanted.
In my experience, there are two types of stage magicians: those that set out primarily to fool an audience, offering challenging puzzles, and those that set out to enchant. And audiences are similarly varied: some want to figure things out, some want to believe, and some aren’t sure what to expect but bring to a magic show a pseudo-religious hope for something wonderful to occur.
At the opening of “Magic Man,” magician Kevin Blake performs his most extraordinary feat: he sets us to thinking about these issues, challenging us with a series of questions about why we have come. Why go to a magic show? What do we expect? To be fooled? To be enchanted? To be irritated? To laugh at a nerd? It is amazingly disarming, capturing our intellects even as we prepare to be entertained by nonsense. It is the perfect approach to capture and intrigue an audience of San Francisco sophisticates and overeducated ivy league techies out for a night of drinking.
As a presence, Blake is himself a puzzle. Well over six feet tall, with the looks of a fashion model, and the ability to perform rap (which he demonstrates in the course of the evening), one is moved to wonder how it is he came to present himself as this nerdy, if charming, magician instead of a TV actor, basketball star, or rap singer.
These are the themes with which Blake opens his show. He banters for several minutes before he segues into the performance of magic tricks. And when he does, they are amazing. He briefly demonstrates his chops for card manipulation and sleight of hand, but then moves into a series of miraculous mind reading demonstrations. A group of audience members draws pictures on pads, and he duplicates them without looking. He reveals personal details innocuous but specific that he has no apparent way of knowing. He makes predictions. He chats about the history of magic shows and reflects upon the appeal of being fooled. He raps.
I have been an amateur magician since childhood (why are you not surprised?), and I can make some pretty good guesses about how he accomplished at least some of his feats. But he left me speculating as to whether he really does have some unexplainable psychic talent.
What more can you ask?
Magic shows are not everybody’s cup of tea, but if you like ’em, you’ll love this one.
And a prediction: Kevin Blake will be around for a long, long time and, sooner rather than later, his will be as much of a household name as Davids Copperfield or Blaine. Bank on it.
“Magic Man” plays at the Palace Theatre in San Francisco on August 23rd & 24h, 2019. For further information, click here.
Rating: **** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Magic Man” written and performed by Kevin Blake. Presented by Kevin Blake and Boxcar Theatre.