author: Ali S

LUIS CARREON: LA BESTIA

☆☆☆☆

The Chicago Magic Lounge has a dual identity, and if one comes early to a show, they have the privilege in witnessing both sides. Magicians tend bar while hobbyists and hangers-on chat loudly about their own illusions, their own connections with “big names” in the magic world. Little jokes are made for the purpose of dropping names, and all at a volume intended to let everyone hear but not everyone understand. This bar is not a land for the casual attendee, this is where the diehards reign. That being said, there is a universal appeal here as well- in a venue that one goes through a fake laundromat entrance to access, this is only another sign that you have been accepted into a deliciously secret space, with tantalizing rumors abound.

But let yourself be ushered into the performance space, and your experience develops in a whole different way. Because while the Lounge itself may have two faces, Artist in Residence Luis Carreon is a man utterly secure in his own identity, and eager to invite his audience into experiencing it. This is the identity the Lounge thrives in sharing, the showmanship talent they have done so well cultivating.

Carreon’s pet schtick in his show La Bestia is, to be blunt, his ethnicity. Tricks and jokes alike are formed primarily around his Mexican background. This tactic lends a sense of cohesion to a show where otherwise the stream of tricks would seem picked at random, a collection of standard coin, card and similar familiar effects. However, a well-constructed persona can color a show, but cannot serve as the sole narrative, which Carreon seems to attempt. Carreon delights and charms the audience with ease through his authenticity. A smidge more confidence would seem to be all he needs to free him from overplaying his history and allow him to integrate it into a more developed narrative to build his show around.

Ultimately, Carreon is a talented performer who lacks only a little polish and experience. His comedic timing is clever and refreshing – when he lets it be. Carreon’s audience is captivated by every joke he lets breathe. He need only to stop overfilling his performance with any joke, trick, and pop culture reference he can think of, to stop throwing material at the wall hoping it will stick. The material that the audience gets time and space to absorb does stick, and spectacularly so.

Luis Carreon is a charming performer, and faultlessly adept at sleight of hand. While La Bestia may be at moments bloated with material, one gets the sense that this is because Carreon is so in love with his art that he cannot imagine not sharing his favourite parts of it with his crowd. This openness and delight with communicating the magic of magic wins his audience to him, and deservedly so. La Bestia is an experience well worth attending, and one that will likely only get better each time.  

More information on Carreon and his performance dates can be found here.

TRENT JAMES: PURE LIES

☆☆☆☆

It cannot be underestimated what a boon the Chicago Magic Lounge is to the local magic scene. Within the flawlessly decorated interior, walls dripping with prints from the golden age of magic and hidden doorways at every turn, any performer is perfectly set up to shine. That being said, the brilliantly constructed beauty of the venue still would not be able to carry the show. For that, the magician still needs their own supply of skill and charm. Luckily for Trent James, he is well situated with both.

If you are the type to google your entertainers before you see a show, which increasingly we all are, you would note that James bills himself as a comedy magician. This may skew expectations, as Pure Lies is not what one would predict from such a claim. Comedy magic almost exclusively uses the trick as a tool to deliver the punch line, whereas James’ show is a far closer fit to a traditional magic show. Cheeky, self-depreciating humor sparkles under every line of banter, but is never made the focus of any bit, just a supplement.

More accurately, Pure Lies is well- performed, classic magic. James pulls from the best of old magic, but wisely avoids padding with any trick that is too worn out. Instead, he makes sure the tricks he does perform are given ample attention, molded around the ideal avenues for audience interaction, and refreshed to provide a modern take.

The unpretentious air that James affects may be the most clever part of Pure Lies, shrugging into the silliness of the show while perfectly disguising the hard work that magicians have to put in to seem effortless. The technical talent displayed by James is remarkable if you know to squint for it, and the fact that you have to squint a triumph on its’ own.

Chicago Magic Lounge seldom lacks for a good show, but Trent James’ Pure Lies stands out within their program as an unmissable event.

More information on Trent James and his performance dates can be found here. 

WMR FIRST QUARANTINE MAGIC ROUNDUP

At a time when even intimate parlor magic would be too large of a crowd for us, there are so many great magicians out there proving the show does go on. Virtual magic show reviews hopefully to follow here at some point, but for now, something a little different (magicians can have a little critique-free promotion from us, as a treat.) We’re going to start with just sharing lists of some cool magic shows you can see from the comfort (/confinement) of your own home. Please, please do get in touch with us and let us know your favorite magicians who are doing online shows and events so we can include them in Roundups #2 onwards!

  1. The Magic Penthouse – Normally a monthly show in Chicago, the magicians of The Magic Penthouse can currently be found doing weekly Facebook live sessions.  Check them out on Thursdays at 18:00 CST / 23:00 UTC
  2.  Mark James – Magician Mark James is doing weekly ‘Livestream Lockdown’ shows on Mondays at 20:00 UTC, each featuring special magical guests.
  3. The Seance – Looking for something a little more historical? Performers Thom Britton and Jonathan Pritchard can be found on live on Youtube on May 15th at 18:00 CST / 23:00 UTC reading excerpts from Houdini’s ‘A Magician Among the Spirits’

TOM BRACE: BRACE OF SPADES

☆☆

Brace yourself (sorry), Tom Brace’s show Brace of Spades is a whirlwind of fun, playful energy. Brace is a cheerful, exuberant performer whose enthusiasm is a solid match for the family demographic that one can expect at an afternoon magic show. Accordingly, while the show lacks a certain degree of cohesiveness or polish, it is bright and exciting for the youngest elements of the crowd.

Brace performs classic magic effects, but makes them fresh with his own effusive nature. Brace understands that in family magic in particular, the audience does not so much care about him- for an older audience the character of the magician is often an important element of the narrative, but when mostly focusing on children- well, they just want to see the magic. So while Brace’s presentation lacks in the personal, it is because it doesn’t have to.

The tricks themselves are performed with faultless dexterity, and Brace excels at sleight of hand. He also has, for the most part, a charmingly silly banter with the audience. The one occasional misstep in this is his attempt to keep enough cheek in so the adults in the room don’t get bored. At best, jokes about the women brought up for audience participation can be cute enough at first, but become repetitive to the point of irritating as they are recycled several times throughout the show. At worst, they are even unnecessary, as Brace is much more adept at the wholesome chat, and the cheek often seems forced in the first place.

But Brace has enough charm to keep the audience on board, as evidenced by one particular moment of the performance reviewed. At one point, Brace has an audience member on stage who is expected to try to call a friend or family member, live and onstage. Unfortunately, a lot of people are busy in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, and the participant struggled to do so- but despite this set up taking near twenty minutes when it seems to have probably been planned to last about two, Brace never lets the moment lag, and every attempt and failure is made to be a great source for comedy and audience empathy.

Brace of Spades is a fast-paced and silly magic show, perfect for a family afternoon out.

 

More information on Tom Brace and his performance dates can be found here. 

 

TOMAS MCCABE: THE MIND READING EXPERIMENTS

☆☆

You wouldn’t expect it from someone with a face so young, but the moment Tomas McCabe steps on stage, he radiates a sense of authority. Maybe it’s just the lab coat, but McCabe’s energy and articulation immediately set the expectation that The Mind Reading Experiments is going to be a captivating show – and it does not disappoint.

The Mind Reading Experiments is both a historical exploration and a magic show, cloaked in the wonder of “obviously he can’t actually read our minds…but what if he can?” McCabe brings his audience into the 19th century spiritualism craze, where psychical abilities were tested and debated both in private, spiritual spheres and in scientific and intellectual ones. Key to his show are the Creery sisters, a group of five girls who claimed to have psychic powers, and the experiments that were done on them by scientists of the time to determine just how true that might be. But this show is not just about the past, it’s about today’s spectators too. McCabe claims that he’s going to teach us all how lies are discovered, minds are read, and much more. He bounces between different ways our minds work, from how we present body language that gives our true intentions away when trying to lie, to how propaganda and technology work on us. A glimpse inside the magic of the mentalists, we think, but McCabes’s skills prove far beyond any audience member’s powers of comprehension, and even when doing their best to catch him out, McCabe proves that he’s the smartest one in the room – or at least the most extrasensory.

McCabe mentions dropping out of school to follow the subjects that truly interested him, but it is clear that despite that, he certainly knows how to study. The Mind Reading Experiments is put together with by-the-book magic show perfection, from the overarching theme to the quick and neat cycling through audience participants. It is, if anything, a little too perfect, a little too perfunctory. At times audience members are brought onstage to do a quick task, be set dressing for a moment while McCabe provides framework for the next bit, and dismissed. This seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, because McCabe truly shines when he banters freely with his audience members, or is faced with a participant so excited to engage that they carve a bit of the show for themselves. McCabe is better at improvising than he thinks he is. Similarly, one simple but striking moment is his method of collecting slips of paper from the crowd – it’s unexpected, funny, and lightens the mood. McCabe is already head of the class when it comes to a well-constructed magic show, but once he feels the comfort to be more creative, he will be unstoppable.

The Mind Reading Experiments is a cleverly wrought and enjoyable magic experience. You may not come out of it with a lot more information about psychical abilities than you may have already known, as your teacher has no intention in letting his students outsmart him, but really you wouldn’t want to. Tomas McCabe makes it more fun to be baffled than you could ever have imagined.

 

More information about Tomas McCabe and his performance dates can be found here.

BILLY REID: WATCH CLOSELY

☆☆

Good art thrives when it is communicating, is connecting. Good art thrives when it surpasses the individual and is made accessible to the collective. Although it may take some convincing to even get everyone to agree that magic is art, and can be good art, it cannot be debatable that Billy Reid’s show Watch Closely most certainly is. But what’s more, Watch Closely exceeds good art to become great, and exceeds thriving to absolutely bring magic to life in the eyes and, in some cases, hands, of those that get to witness it.

The title Watch Closely sounds at first like the issuing of a challenge. Watch closely, because the magician is here to trick you- will you be able to catch him? But that is not actually anything close to the sentiment of Reid’s show.  Reid does not present magic as a challenge to be beat. His performance is uncommonly personal, with almost all effects tying into the narrative Reid weaves about his family, his childhood, memories about both his upbringing and more recent experiences that stayed close to his heart.

Although the story that ties Reid’s magic together is so personal to him, that does not make it inaccessible to others. In fact, quite the opposite. Reid is able to cast a spell over his audience that brings them with him on every trick, every tale, every tone shift. At the performance reviewed, the room was full and the audience amiable and excited. Reid engaged well with this energy, bantering with his crowd and taking advantage of the boisterousness for the lighthearted effects. But when moments required a little more calm, a little more focus, Reid was even still able to lead all his spectators into the appropriate mentality, a much more impressive feat.

All his authentic charisma would be for naught without genuine talent, which luckily Reid has in spades (a heinous pun for which we do not apologise.) Reid’s takes on card tricks, his rendition of the oldest magic trick in the world, and really all tricks that are performed in Watch Closely are performed with, if not total technical perfection, so close as to be nearly indistinguishable from it. And Reid’s effects are performed with similarly spectacular beauty. Reid mentions a love for visual art in this show, and proves this by integrating art thematically into the tricks performed. Not only does he do an homage to a favourite artist, but one of his closing pieces features his own foray into drawing. The pictures created aren’t bad themselves, but what he does with them through magic is absolutely incredible.

Watch closely, Reid insists. Not just for this show, this hour, but through your own life. Not to catch a trick, but to catch a moment. To keep each memory as alive as the magic he creates.

 

More information on Billy Reid and his performance dates can be found here.

MAGICAL BONES: BLACK MAGIC

☆☆☆

There is only one hip hop dancing magician at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, but Magical Bones does not rest on the laurels of the uniqueness of this aspect. Rather, in Black Magic, he has created a show that is both fun and thought provoking, and skillfully performed throughout.

The term ‘Black Magic’ is not in reference to sinister sorcery, or folk magic that the west misappropriated and misconstrued. It is instead for his own position as a black magician. Bones gives honor to  his magician role models by performing tricks inspired by them at several parts of the show, and uses his platform to teach his audience about these underappreciated black magicians of the past.

But Bones is not just good in the shadow of others, he’s pure charm all on his own. Even when a trick or two may falter, the magician doesn’t, and his enchanting personality keeps everyone on board.

Bones not only incorporates his dancing skills into his act, but even a little audience education of it in individual tricks. He shares his personal journey into these combined passions through magical effects as many magicians do, but he has a very unique story to tell. Most compelling of all is a beautiful mix of a classic card effect and a song mash up that accompanies it perfectly.

You don’t have to like hip hop to watch Black Magic, but you may find that you do by the end. Magical Bones has created a fresh and surprisingly educational experience, and he never loses a beat.

 

More information on Magical Bones and his performance dates can be found here. 

JOHN ACCARDO: METHOD TO THE MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Magic can be many things, based on everything from the taste of the performer to the perception of the spectator. Magic can be challenging, exciting, classic, smug, one or any or none of the above but something else. But in John Accardo’s Method to the Magic, above all else, magic is joy.

Accardo is a wellspring of effusive, infectious enthusiasm. It is abundantly apparent just how much passion he has for magic, and how much delight he takes in sharing it. This devotion transfers more and more strongly to his audience the longer he spends with them.

Method the the Magic is a very casual show. Accardo chats with his crowd as they come in, banters easily, and makes no attempt to restore order when certain moments of audience participation dissolve into farcical levels of confusion and self consciousness. Rather, he leans into it, letting every moment develop naturally. This cannot and should not be mistaken for lack of control. Accardo is a sharper and more skilful magician than he’s willing to let his audience think he is. The silliness inspires goodwill for him in his spectators, and thus Accardo has won the crowd.

Accardo uses classic magic effects very well integrated into his narrative for the show- explaining what it’s like to be a magician and (almost, sort of) what it’s like to do the tricks. He jumps from mind reading to card tricks and beyond with equal and impressive mastery, and every part is- there’s this word again- a joy – to watch.

This is John Accardo’s first time at the Edinburgh Fringe, but hopefully the first of many. Because it won’t be long before the crowds of Fringe goers discover that in a bunker plopped down in George Square is a hidden gem of the Fringe magic world.

More information on John Accardo can be found here.

MASON KING: SLEIGHT OF MIND

☆☆

Mason King’s Sleight of Mind is a primer on classic mentalism effects. A confident performer,  every piece of King’s show is delivered with the utmost technical perfection, from preparing the audience for what is to come to chaining together the different ways he would read their minds. Nothing in Sleight of Mind is uncomfortable, nothing is offensive. Over the course of the hour reviewed King received one single surprised gasp, a few chuckles, and polite applause for the majority of his tricks, most of them without having to overtly prompt the audience to do so.

But, I’m afraid to say, shows like this are exactly why some people don’t like magic shows. Magic isn’t off-putting when it’s actually bad, no, that makes it horrifically interesting. It’s off-putting when it is bland. Sleight of Mind really is just a primer- nothing more and nothing less than every trick in some fictional volume of mentalism standards, with a few general magic standards thrown in.  Everything from the tricks done to the words around them is like script from someone and everyone else’s book, even when King introduces himself: I was (enter number under 15) years old when I got into magic, here’s a line about my mentor, here’s how I’m going to read your mind.

Sleight of Mind has no narrative, no theme, no gimmick, no twist. King makes no real attempt at comedy and has no sense of comedic timing, nor does he afford the audience a sense of himself, or his personality, or make an effort to tie the humanity and stories of his audience members in. He gives us no reason to care, no reason to be invested, no reason to spend money to see his show. Sleight of Mind is a perfect first draft, a perfect skeleton, a perfect ‘what’ and ‘how’ to overlay with ‘why?’ Now all King needs is to find that missing piece, to find the ‘why’, or, if he knows it, to share it with his audiences. Because truthfully, that it the piece that matters the most.

 

More information on Mason King and his performance dates can be found here.

LUKE JERMAY: STRANGE POWER

☆☆☆☆

Predicting the future is indeed a strange power. Who even, really, wants to know what comes next? Wouldn’t that take the fun out of it? But for those who have gotten to experience Luke Jermay, the fun of it is undeniable.

Strange Power is not a pretentious show, despite the teeming grandiose of Jermay. It is a thing exactly of itself- a man will come onstage, answer the deepest questions his audience members have of their futures and, sixty minutes later, leave. It is one single act done identically, but it is one single act done incredibly well.

Jermay is an exceptionally powerful performer. From the moment he steps onstage he radiates such a strong sense of presence- despite not saying a word for the first several minutes- that the audience is held in his thrall and wait in their own silent, excited anticipation, so as not to risk missing a word. When he does speak, Jermay is commanding and sharp, but not without genuine warmth. He is the portrait of a man who Knows What He Is Doing, and his onlookers cannot help but be desperate to know too.

Most importantly, Jermay is right, and not just right but exhaustively so. Jermay does not just get a read on each of his chosen audience members, but does so with compelling, intimate depth. Unlike some of his profession, he does not shy away from giving actual advice on the paths that can be taken. He does not fear overstepping- after all, we did ask. His decision to engage so thoroughly allows him to be invested into the futures he predicts, and allows the rest of the audience to be as well. Jermay makes the lives of random strangers who happened to go to the same Fringe show as you as interesting as your own.

Luke Jermay does have a strange power, and few could predict the future as well as he. But one prediction can be made with total confidence by anyone who sees his show: Luke Jermay is only going to build on his already prodigious strengths, and be a household name before long.

More information on Luke Jermay and his performance dates can be found here.