In And Of Itself

Before the Mag­ic Castle tour start­ed, I told Siegfried that I saw Bor­rowed Time on his sug­ges­tion and loved it. He told me that Helder used to do an amaz­ing show called Noth­ing to Hide with a part­ner, Derek Del­Gau­dio. They had been doing the act at the Mag­ic Castle for a while, but Neil Patrick Har­ris thought it was so great it need­ed a big­ger audi­ence, so he set them up with a run at the Gef­fen Play­house. That became such a hit, they even took it to New York for off-Broad­way per­for­mances. Sad­ly, the show has end­ed, but Derek Del­Gau­dio is now doing a solo show back at the Gef­fen called In & Of Itself.

In & Of Itself at Geffen Playhouse

And Frank Oz is the direc­tor? Say no more, say no more! I looked up tick­ets as soon as I got home that night. The crit­ics’ reviews are off the charts!

It’s hard to imag­ine any evening at the the­ater being more per­son­al, more mov­ing, or more mag­i­cal.” – Los Ange­les mag­a­zine

Derek has cre­at­ed the best mag­ic show I’ve ever seen and that might be damn­ing with faint praise. It’s Marcel Duchamp and Andy Kauf­man if they could do per­fect bot­tom deals.” — Penn Jil­let­te

I got to the Gef­fen a bit ear­ly and got a drink in the lob­by. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, they told me that I could not bring food or drink into the the­ater, so I had to down my beer. Between the lob­by and the the­ater was a small room with a peg­board hold­ing lots of lit­tle tags, each one print­ed with a dif­fer­ent “I am…” state­ment. The staff asked us to each pick one before we went in. I was sad to find that there was no “I am Bat­man!” tag, so I had to make do:

I am ... a Hero

Then I shuf­fled into the the­ater and the ush­er took the bot­tom half of my tag as he showed me my seat. The stage was set very min­i­mal­ly, but your eyes are drawn to the six win­dows in the back wall, mir­ror­ing the six-bul­let revolver from the show poster.

In& Of Itself stage

The show is still on-going, so I will not give away any­thing that hap­pens. I will tell you, though, that the crit­ics were right. The tricks were amaz­ing, but more than that, the sto­ry was mov­ing and it all tied togeth­er real­ly well. I did not see the ele­phant or find the brick. Hope­ful­ly you will see the show for your­self and do bet­ter than I did.

Magic Castle Tour

Atlas Obscura’s tour of the Mag­ic Castle guid­ed by Seigfried Tieber sold out before I could get a tick­et. How­ev­er, it was so extreme­ly pop­u­lar, they did a repeat per­for­mance! I got pri­or­i­ty as a wait­lis­ter from the first time and quick­ly secured a tick­et this time. I showed up slight­ly ear­ly and enjoyed a drink at the main bar again as I wait­ed for Siegfried and Hadley to arrive. Here is the pro­gram from that week:

Magic Castle program (outside)

Magic Castle program (inside)

Magic Castle Tour

The tour itself was very inter­est­ing. The Mag­ic Castle is quite a maze, so hav­ing a guide was great. Besides show­ing us the var­i­ous rooms, Siegfried stopped at an emp­ty par­lor to do some tricks for us. Serendip­i­tous­ly, his friend, a fel­low magi­cian, hap­pened to be tak­ing some peo­ple on a tour, stopped to watch and also per­form a bit! (I am sor­ry, I for­got his name…) Siegfried also told us a lot about the his­to­ry of the Mag­ic Castle. Every room is packed with mag­i­cal relics and hid­den gems:

  • Invis­i­ble Irma is a ghost who plays piano behind the main bar and takes ver­bal requests!
  • I learned that magi­cians from the Mag­ic Castle actu­al­ly designed the Haunt­ed Man­sion ride at Dis­ney­land, and there is still a minia­ture of the ride that explains the trick to the ghost­ly appari­tions.
  • The base­ment bar, only open on week­ends, has a magi­cian bar­tender who per­forms tricks as he makes your drinks.
  • We saw a small group of magi­cians ner­vous­ly wait­ing to audi­tion for mem­ber­ship.
  • Milt Lar­son, one of the founders of the Mag­ic Castle, was a con­sul­tant and had a cameo in Bed­knobs and Broom­sticks, one of my favorite clas­sic Dis­ney movies. (He is the unim­pressed spec­ta­tor with the bowler hat in the scene I linked.)
  • We got to peak our heads into the library, which is for mem­bers only.
  • We saw an instruc­tor set­ting up for one of the Academy’s class­es for aspir­ing magi­cians.

The tour con­clud­ed with a Q&A ses­sion with Siegfried, and then he invit­ed us to stay as long as we liked and check out the var­i­ous per­for­mances. In fact, he high­ly encour­aged see­ing as much as we could, because the Acad­e­my had just had their annu­al awards cer­e­mony and many win­ners were per­form­ing this week.

Will Houstoun

First, I saw Will Hous­toun in the Close-Up Gallery. He had just won the Lit­er­ary Fel­low­ship and you could see it in his act. Each trick start­ed with his­tor­i­cal mag­ic triv­ia, he would per­form a relat­ed trick, ask a true-or-false ques­tion, and then reveal the answer. For exam­ple, he told us about one of the old­est tricks, the cups and balls, and its vari­ants such as three-card mon­te. He per­formed a sam­ple and then told us about the most famous magi­cian to do this trick, Mat­ti­as Buchinger (some­times Matthew Buckinger to his Eng­lish audi­ences), who was able to per­form this rou­tine despite being born with­out hands or feet! Spoil­er alert, this one is true!

Matthew Buchinger

Robert Dorian

Next up, I saw Robert Dori­an per­form in the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion. He is a men­tal­ist, which I usu­al­ly enjoy in small­er dos­es, but not an entire act’s worth. It was a strong show­ing for the most part, but there was one bit where it was obvi­ous he was get­ting frus­trat­ed with the audi­ence vol­un­teer who could not fol­low his direc­tions. My favorite trick was flip­ping through a stack of cards with names of celebri­ties. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to pick one and said that celebri­ty would then walk into the room. The secret, he told us, is that he got all of them to show up and wait out­side for a name to be called, and then the right one just had to walk in. We could not be sure, though, because the name on the card select­ed was his own.

Rob Zabrecky

Right after Mr. Dorian’s per­for­mance, I got back in line for the Par­lour of Pres­tidig­i­ta­tion to see Rob Zabrecky. If you have not seen him before, he has got a very unique style of mag­ic — very Addams Fam­i­ly or Tim Bur­ton. I think this pho­to says it all:

Rob Zabrecky

I think every one of his tricks was great! An ear­ly one that got me was when he explained that he was work­ing on his social skills. He asked an audi­ence mem­ber to roll a die, and the result cor­re­spond­ed to a num­bered card held in a can­de­labra. On the back of the card was a social con­ven­tion they would do in front of every­one. (This was explained with a bit of a leer to the cute audi­ence mem­ber he had select­ed.) She was quite relieved to get “Hug” on her card. Lit­tle did she know, when he hugged her, we could read the backs of all the oth­er cards, and they all said “Kill.” I want to tell you about more, but I will hold back in case you ever get a chance to see him per­form.

After that, I tried to cir­cle back to the Close-Up Gallery to see Bebel, but unfor­tu­nate­ly the small room had already filled up, so I had to go home only hav­ing seen the­se three acts.

Borrowed Time LA

Anoth­er sug­ges­tion of Siegfried’s from his mag­ic show at the LA Ath­let­ics Club was to check out his friend Helder Guimarães’s show, Bor­rowed Time LA. The show gar­nered some rave reviews, but the lim­it­ed run has end­ed, so I will be post­ing some spoil­ers!

Borrowed Time

Unlike most mag­ic shows, Bor­rowed Time was not set in a the­ater — this was more of a “pop-up” per­for­mance. When you reserve your tick­ets online, you are only told the gen­er­al neigh­bor­hood where the event will be held. The night before, you get a mys­te­ri­ous note giv­ing you the exact address and some help­ful tips regard­ing logis­tics.

I showed up may­be 15 min­utes ear­ly and park down the street at a free meter, then wan­der on foot to find that the address given is… a lit­tle bode­ga? Con­fused, I ask the shop­keeps for help. They told me that I had the wrong address, I was on East 2nd Street when I want­ed West 2nd Street. I was pret­ty sure I had punched in the address cor­rect­ly into my GPS, but start­ed to dou­ble-check. They asked that since I was already there, may­be I would con­sid­er buy­ing a soda from their bro­ken fridge or tak­ing a pic­ture in their pho­to booth again­st the back wall to help them out since the store was not doing too well. I oblig­ed, and stepped into the pho­to booth.

Just as the final flash went off, a pan­el on the wall pulled away, and a young man in a tuxe­do

Borrowed Time Host

invit­ed me into a hid­den pho­to-pro­cess­ing dark room. He was com­plete­ly mute, but used silent-movie era dia­logue cards to prompt me to turn off my phone and inquire if I would like to check my coat. I com­plied with the request and declined the offer, since I had no coat any­way.

He then walked me back into a cham­ber which is impos­si­ble for me to paint an ade­quate word pic­ture for. If you have been to any Hendrick’s Gin events with me, that is what the décor was like… some­thing along the lines of a Vic­to­ri­an muse­um of curiosi­ties set inside of a botan­i­cal gar­den. There was a dis­play case of neat­ly indexed mag­i­cal arti­facts, a pro­jec­tor play­ing a silent sepia-tone film of a masked man explain­ing a card trick, a detailed mod­el train set, a dresser with hun­dreds of tiny pull-draw­ers, and more.

As I stood there dumb­found­ed, the love­ly (but also mute) hostess, dressed in very fash­ion­able steam­punk (com­plete with gog­gles!), slipped me a piece of paper with a rid­dle on it. I found out that there were small cards hid­den around the entire room with one word answers, and endeav­ored to find the answer to my par­tic­u­lar rid­dle. I com­pared notes with a few oth­er guests who had arrived before me, and appar­ent­ly we all had dif­fer­ent ques­tions! My sense of won­der grew as I saw more and more detail through­out the room on my quest. When I found what I thought was an appro­pri­ate answer card, I brought it and the ques­tion back to the hostess, who seemed to be busy writ­ing more at her impromp­tu stand made of stacked steam­er trunks and a hur­ri­cane lamp.

She took my ques­tion and my answer, quick­ly checked for accu­ra­cy, and then filed them away and hand­ed me a new rid­dle. After a few cycles of this, instead of get­ting a new rid­dle, she hand­ed me a tiny wood­en puz­zle box. When I man­aged to solve that, she hand­ed me an old-fash­ioned skele­ton key. I eager­ly looked around the room for an appro­pri­ate lock, but the young host came back and spoke! He ush­ered us through a hid­den door in a wall of plants to a new room with a large round table, and that is where Helder made his appear­ance and the main show began!

Helder Guimarães

I do not want to give away too much about this por­tion of things just in case Helder does this show again in the future, but for me, one of the most mem­o­rable moments was when he asked for an audi­ence mem­ber to let him bor­row a wed­ding ring. A young lady’s hand shot up, and Helder told us how shocked he was because it was always men vol­un­teer­ing, and asked if she want­ed to recon­sid­er. She turned to her hus­band and asked him if it was OK, but the hus­band deferred to her. She hand­ed the ring over to Helder, who prompt­ly put it into a tiny mani­la envelope and ran it through a hand-cranked shred­der!

The entire show was, to use a term per­haps overused for mag­ic, “mind-blow­ing.” And the pro­duc­tion val­ue was off the charts, as I inad­e­quate­ly tried to con­vey to you here. I would high­ly rec­om­mend Bor­rowed Time or any fol­low-up show by Helder. Oh, and as we left, the shop­keeps gave us our pho­to booth pic­tures as a memen­to of the show.

Borrowed Time Photobooth