The Magic Play
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Brett Schneider uses his illusions to emotional effect in an inventive hybrid piece.
Sleight-of-hand makes an intriguing metaphor for human relationships in Andrew HInderaker’s appealing new play, even if the sleight can get heavy-handed. In a first-act scenario that plays out as a hybrid of magic show and inner life, actor and magician Brett Schneider plays an unnamed illusionist whose public performance (complete with volunteers from the audience) is invaded by his offstage angst. The latter takes the form of the boyfriend (Sean Parris) who’s just left him.
As we’re flashed back to the beginning of their relationship, Hinderaker teases out the paradoxes of the magician-audience relationship. “I need to earn your trust, so I’m going to show you a trick?” the boyfriend says, gently mocking the magician. As we revisit the men’s first date, the boyfriend (as conjured up in the magician’s mind, remember) accuses his partner of puppeteering—in exercising the illusionist’s skill of controlling for every outcome, it’s suggested, was he robbing the boyfriend of agency the way he’d subtly guide a volunteer’s responses?
It’s an interesting question, if again rather on-the-nose. That’s true, too, of the magician’s lingering damage from being abandoned as a child by his father, a prestidigitator of considerably less style and skill. The inestimable Francis Guinan goes a long way toward mitigating the potential for cliche in the inevitable Act II reunion scene.
But it’s Schneider’s nimble hands in which Halena Kays’s engaging production rests. Both a highly intelligent and vulnerable actor and a first-rate magician whose set pieces mesh smartly with Hinderaker’s metaphor. That he can win us over while riding these two parallel tracks is in itself a remarkable trick.
Goodman Theatre. By Andrew Hinderaker. Directed by Halena Kays. With Brett Schneider, Sean Parris, Francis Guinan. Running time: 2hrs 15mins; one intermission.