Upon entry to the Daryl Roth Theatre for In & of Itself, a magic show-slash-one-man play starring Derek DelGaudio, guests are asked to select from a wall of personal declarative statements. “I am a night owl,” “I am a pirate,” “I am a person,” were among the hundreds of options ranging from the silly to the serious, the whimsical to the literal. As a magic skeptic, I chose “I am a worthy adversary.” For a show with the tagline, “Identity is an illusion,” this becomes one the experience’s most pivotal moments, even though it takes place before you ever reach your seat.
When DelGaudio, who recently was named Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts, takes the stage and reminds the audience just how rehearsed everything is, from the lights to the run-of-show, you realize you’re in for something a little different. Of course, the entry is directed by Frank Oz and produced by Neil Patrick Harris, so perhaps you should’ve realized that beforehand.
DelGaudio moves around the room and into the audience quite a bit, but mostly he performs in front of a wall featuring six symbols that serve as a jumping off point for a personal story. Each tale eventually leads to an unexpected, jaw-dropping trick.
One symbol, a gold brick breaking through a window, is introduced as being just that — a brick painted gold. But after DelGaudio tells the story of growing up with two mothers and the intolerance his family faced, that brick became a symbol. Our perception of the brick was changed further still when DelGaudio made it disappear and promised guests could find it at the street corner of a random audience member’s choosing. For most of the people who would walk by it, the brick would hold no meaning, but for the audience member that went looking for it, the brick would mean something else altogether. (And several audience members from the performance I attended did indeed find the brick.)
As a storyteller, DelGaudio is undeniably compelling, making the show feel intimate and personal. As a magician, well, there’s a reason he’s collected so many awards for his work and served as a consultant on Christopher Nolan’s film The Prestige. Ultimately, though, the true magic of the show is its philosophical consideration of illusion, identity, and perception. B+