I had been warned by a few magicians that The Magic Castle, Hollywood’s exclusive supper club for magicians which is widely considered to be ground zero for magic in this country, would not be the place to go to sample the world’s most innovative and engaging magic. By and large, they were right.
Not that I didn’t have an excellent time the two visits I made there this past couple of days. The Castle is full of interesting historical ephemera from ventriloquist dummies’ hats to Victorian ghost dioramas. The staff is friendly, the food and wine are delicious and magicians are lurking in every corner only too eager to show you their skills with miniature dollar bills and lengths of rope. However, in all honesty, I found myself very ready to leave by the time I had spent two evenings in the company of the Magic Castle magi.
Besides witnessing some pretty unfunny attempts at merging magic with comedy and some clumsy sleight of hand, the main problem overall was that I saw way too many card tricks. Why are card tricks so damn popular? Cards are boring to look at, people tend to pull the same stunts over and over again, and if you’re careless about your presentation, e.g. by doing the trick on a flat surface which may compromise the view for some audience members depending on where they’re sitting, the cleverness of your illusion is lost.
And yet cards persist as the most prevalent prop in magic today. There’s obviously great skill involved in performing a deft illusion with nothing but a pack of rectangular pieces of cardboard about your person. Guy Hollingworth demonstrated as much with his spectacular feats in The Expert at the Card Table, which I caught on Sunday afternoon at The Broad Stage. And I’m not calling for magicians to return to the days of rabbits, wands and top hats.
But it might be time for magic to find itself some new and interesting props.
Pop Haydn (pictured), my favorite performer from last night’s lineup at the Castle, undertook a wonderful routine using a weird contraption that looked like an old-fashioned transistor radio. The improbable gadget has flashing lights on it and made an ear-splitting squeaking sound when the venerable magician turned the dial on its front. The prop fitted in well with his ludite-centric theme and served as a wonderful device for performing the main illusion — the “transmission” of a soggy dollar bill, attached to the end of a long antenna which protruded from the device, to the inside of a lemon!
I wish more magicians could be equally creative.