Sleight of Hand
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants at the Wizard's Playhouse
It's human nature to enjoy being fooled. We might not appreciate being fooled by our spouses, our accountants or our presidents, but most of us relish being bamboozled by magicians. The feat can be as simple as a card trick or as elaborate as hacking a pretty young damsel in half with a chain saw before magically piecing her back together again. It doesn't matter much. I don't care how many times a wizard pulls a rabbit out of his hat or a nickel out of your nose. For most people, the classics of magic never get old.
Wedged next to a laundromat in Nob Hill is a relatively new venue for theatrical magic. The entrance is so nondescript you have to watch closely or you might easily miss it. Walk through the glass door and down the narrow hall, and you'll first come to a nifty shop called the Magic Juggler. Filled with books and DVDs, wands, marked card decks and magic boxes as well as gags like fake vomit and squirting calculators, this place is dork heaven. Order your tickets to the show at the register.
The Wizard's Playhouse: Intimate Theatre of Magic is located in a tiny performance space at the back of the building. It's only been open for a couple months. Since that time, two magicians, known simply as Damon and his lovely assistant Elizabeth, have hosted a series of magical evenings for small audiences. Last month, they reconstructed a 19th- century spirit-channeling séance. Currently, they're presenting a show called Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, a tribute to their magical friends and others who have influenced them over the years.
The Wizard's Playhouse is a cool little venue that only seats about 25 people. Inside, it looks something like a wizard's living room with a kind of altar in the far corner decked out in magical paraphernalia—masks, skulls, crystal orbs and the like. There are a couple plush chairs that seem like they've come from long ago and far away. On a table, directly in front of the altar, rests a magic chest.
They aren't kidding about this theater being intimate. You really feel as if you're visiting someone's house, possibly that house on the corner with boards over the windows from which you occasionally hear groans and screams just after the clock strikes midnight.
Damon has the wizard look down cold. With his black garb, amulet necklace and long gray goatee, he looks like a storybook Merlin. Elizabeth is what you would expect from a wizard's assistant. She sets up the tricks and also does quite a few of her own.
The show itself is just as intimate as the theater. It's informal and quite a bit hokey, but it's kind of charming in this ambiance. Basically, Damon tells a series of stories about magicians they've known—from Orson Welles (did you know he did magic?) to Harry Blackstone Jr. to Jay Scott Berry to Tommy Wonder. The idea here is to pay homage to their influences. They do this by telling a tale then actually performing one of the favored tricks of the magician in question.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants is participatory. Almost everyone in the front row (except me, damn it) played a role in one of the tricks. Quite a few people in the second row took part as well.
During one trick, Elizabeth blindfolds Damon and places a thick black bag over his head. A member of the audience chooses another audience member and gives that person an inflated white balloon. Damon then unsheathes a long, scary dagger and starts stumbling blindly around the theater. At one point, it seemed likely that my wife would get stabbed in the neck. Thankfully, Damon turned at the last second, jabbed downward with his dagger and popped the balloon, somehow sensing its exact location.
Later he managed to pierce this same dagger through a mirror. He also did an impressive card trick involving a tarot deck. Elizabeth read the mind of a woman from Roswell seated to my right. She also did some cool tricks with the simplest of implements—a pink ribbon and a gold ring. One of the prettiest tricks involved Elizabeth blowing soap bubbles out of a glass pipe while Damon magically transformed them into solid glass spheres.
Perhaps because this was opening night, the show unfortunately wasn't very polished. Mistakes were made. A couple tricks weren't executed perfectly. There was also some trouble with the remote control used to cue the soundtrack. Likewise, both performers occasionally seemed a bit uncomfortable on stage.
That said, I think most of the audience was fully engaged with the show. Damon and Elizabeth have an undeniable rapport with each other. They're very sweet together. It's something like listening to a favorite uncle tell wild stories about his travels around the globe while showing off a few amazing tricks he's learned in foreign lands. One thing is certain: There's definitely no other act like it in Albuquerque.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants will run for another month or so, and they have other quirky shows planned for the future. Keep tabs on the mysterious doings at the Wizard's Playhouse by logging on to www.wizardsplayhouse.com or checking the Alibi arts calendar.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants, a magical performance by Damon and Elizabeth, runs through mid February at the Wizard's Playhouse: Intimate Theatre of Magic (3205 Central NE). Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. $13. Limited seating. 265-1581.