The last major magic show to hit the Bay Area theater scene involved Siegfried and Roy giving their stamp of magical approval to a kid who sang show tunes while doing fairly lame tricks. It’s no wonder that magic gets such a bad rap for being such a cheeseball staple of the Las Vegas showroom.
But when magic is done well, it’s tremendous. Free of schmaltz and full of ingenuity, genuine theatrical magic is a joy, and that’s what you’ll find in Christian Cagigal’sNow and at the Hour now at the EXIT Stage Left. After a successful run in New York followed by a well-received San Francisco run, the magical Cagigal has revived the show, much to the delight of his adoring audience.
Cagigal doesn’t waste a lot of time with the usual flash-and-flair gimcrackery. He doesn’t need to impress us with empty gesturing and phony-baloney showmanship because he has plenty of genuine wonder at his disposal, and if that fails to make an impression, then magic is simply not for you.
Part autobiographical solo show, part mind-reading festival, Cagigal’s show is a spellbinding hour that puts a fresh spin theatrical magic. He enters the theater and sets up his stage. He turns over an hourglass and sets a metronome in motion. He checks his pocket watch and he wonders aloud, “Did you ever get the feeling that everything has happened before and it will all happen again?” He attempts to prove the notion of time travel – or at the very least, time bending – during the next hour, and he makes a pretty good case.
Whatever his methods, be they manipulation, trickery, suggestion or genuine magic, Cagigal elicits gasps of amazement from his audience as he quite effectively reads people’s minds. There’s quite a lot of audience participation in this show, but not to worry – it’s not obnoxious in the least. Cagigal is not only a genial host but also unfailingly polite to his volunteers. If some detail he intuits turns out to be too personal, he won’t share it with the crowd, but he’ll make sure you know he knows what’s going on in your dirty mind.
Holding a stereoscope (usually used to view old-fashioned 3-D postcards), Cagigal stares at blank cards that volunteers have supposedly filled with visions from their memories. He then describes what he sees with seemingly remarkable acuity. He does card tricks and even, for one trick, makes the audience the magician.
In between tricks, he tells us stories from his childhood and what it was like growing up in San Francisco with a father whose mental balance was upset by a stint in Vietnam. His father’s presence looms large in the show because as the elder Cagigal battled his demons, the younger retreated into a world of magic as a means of escape. The power of memory and the passage of time fuel the smoke and mirrors of the show and raises it far above the sort of parlor tricks that can sometimes pass for theatrical magic.
How many shows are both astonishing and moving? Cagigal’s Now and at the Hour is both. Cagigal engages the heart and the imagination, making him a magician to watch with a show to see sooner rather than later.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Christian Cagigal’s Now and at the Hour continues an extended run through March 27 at the EXIT Stage Left, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco Tickets are $15-$25. Visit www.theexit.org for information.