Jon Hudson Odom and Brett Schneider in The Magic Play. Photo by Bill Brymer.
The Magic Play
By Andrew Hinderaker
Directed by Halena Kays
Magic Created by Brett Schneider
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
I know that some of you can recall the prime time specials on television that featured big-name magicians such as Doug Henning and David Copperfield. You would sit in front of your 19-inch screen, occasionally messing with the antenna, enthralled with the sleight of hand and tricks that were performed all while trying to figure out how it was done.
That allure has not changed over the decades, as there are whole theaters and shows that are set up for Magic and Amazement. Our hometown guys Lance Burton and Mac King are doing quite well in that area, with their quicker than a blink card tricks and clever prestidigitation.
Always wanting to go the extra mile, in Andrew Hinderaker’s clever The Magic Play, Actors Theatre did not just fill the role of the Magician with a talented actor, but in fact, hired an actor who is also an honest to goodness Magician. Brett Schneider is that talent.
As Jamie, Mr. Schneider makes his way to the stage, which is set up with a table and a couple of chairs to the side as well as a house of cards, he begins a dialogue with the audience. The dialogue hints at whether the audience should actually converse directly with Jamie and yes, some do, which adds to the evening. An audience member is selected and a clever trick that is projected on the screen behind Jamie so that the audience has a better view. The probability of this trick being duplicated exactly by another person is almost incalculable.
As the volunteer sits down Jamie starts to set up his next trick but is blindsided by memories of his former lover, Daniel. He regains his composure and speaks of his father, who was a fan of sleight of hand, while images of magicians past appear on the scrim. But Jamie can’t shake his lover and like magic, Daniel manifests on stage.
We are taken where love can create magic and where love may just be an illusion. This is the problem that Daniel brings to light to Jamie. Was he just part of Jamie’s routine, part of his patter? And what about Dad?
While Jamie’s estranged father was a source of inspiration, he was also a catalyst to Jamie’s insecurity and perceptions.
After visiting his father, who has a show of his own in a run-down casino in Reno, Jamie comes to understand a bit more about himself and then rushes to Daniel to try to win him back.
A magician must always think several steps ahead to be a good performer, but for Jamie’s sake, he lost sight of being in the now and being spontaneous. Perhaps he can embrace those elements of whimsy, but in the meantime, he is focused on his next trick.
The closing trick, which might be figured out in some context, had a surprising twist from the participating audience member that caused an unexpected emotional response. Ladies and gentlemen, it is within those moments that live theater is unparalleled.
Jack Bronis as Jamie’s father realized the role perfectly. Unapologetic in his leaving his son behind and as hammy as you can imagine a struggling performer to be, Jon Hudson Odom’s approach to Daniel was fun and energetic. You could feel his hurt as his life with Jamie was unraveling.
How often do you get a twofer for such a show? Brett Schneider as the Magician or Jamie was spot on. From the moment that he arrived on stage and performed his first card trick to the dimming of the lights, he created Jamie’s world as if it were his own. It is often said that an actor should put a little of themselves in every role, I firmly believe that Mr. Schneider did just that.
The production team was top notch. From Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi’s aerial effects for Daniel, with help by ZFX, Inc., to Phillip Allgeier’s Media.
There were some moments within the play that seemed to drag a bit, such as the set up for a moment of spontaneity, but there weren’t many of those to be found.
The Magic Play might seem an unusual choice for Actors Theatre, but it is actually one that fits oh so well. Let some Magic into your lives and participate.
The Magic Play
January 23 – February 11, 2018
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.