Having missed Jeff Grow's award-winning show during the soloNOVA Arts Festival earlier this year, I was glad to get a chance to catch it in its limited return engagement at D-Lounge last night. But I found it hard to figure out just what to make of the performance, which mixes magic, mind reading, and storytelling.
Mr. Grow quickly establishes his warm, witty personality along with his sleight-of-hand skills. The tricks are old ones, but when done well they still work, no matter that Houdini was performing and improving upon the same types of illusions a century ago. In any case this act isn't about a succession of magic tricks; it's more of a meta-magic show. Between Mr. Grow's impressive demonstrations of manual dexterity and mental skill, we're treated to stories about classic street scams, peppered with topical references and swayed (and slowed) by plenty of audience participation.
The ultimate payoff is a real showstopper. Along the way, though, things periodically bog down. For an audience with little knowledge of the arts of the magician- mentalist, the narrative parts of the show may be more edifying than they were to me (I had read a biography of Houdini recently and much of what Mr. Grow talked about was familiar to me from the book).
I found it hard to tell how much of his seeming distraction and his rather scattershot presentation was shtick, intended to charm and distract the audience. Magicians' stock in trade, after all, is to make us focus on one thing and thus completely miss something else. But some of the hemming and hawing occurred not in the context of an illusion or trick, but of a story. This, I found myself thinking at various points, is just going nowhere. Not having looked carefully at the promotional material, I wasn't aware that there was a director, Jessi D. Hill. The show didn't seem directed. It seemed haphazard.
In the end it all does go somewhere, and I'm glad I attended. With a show that requires so much audience involvement, there's always going to be some variation, and perhaps this was an unusually slow-paced night. But I couldn't help feeling that tautening the show up would have significantly improved it.
On the other hand, maybe it's an advanced form of performance art which only highly evolved beings can fully appreciate and which therefore went over my head. Wouldn't be the first time.
Creating Illusion has two more performances, Oct. 23 and 30, 10 PM at D-Lounge, 101 E. 15 St. (at Union Square). It's a small space and it was packed last night, so getting tickets in advance would be a good idea. Visit Smarttix or call 212-868-4444.
Photo by Zack Brown.