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THEATER REVIEW The Rosenkranz Mysteries: Physician Magician
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-04-06

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Playwright: Eugene Burger, Jessica Fisch & Ricardo Rosenkranz

At: Opus Magica Music at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted St. Tickets: $50-$75. Runs through: May 6

If the notion of a physician who professes to believe in magic makes you uncomfortable, remember that the initial step in any scientific discovery is a perceptual one: First you observe that something works, and then you search for the secret of why it works. The shamans of yore may have bowed to expedience in the execution of their practice, relying on divine intervention for explanation of its efficacy, but medical technology today continues to acknowledge the importance of unseen factors in determining the outcome of pathogenic wars.

Ricardo Rosenkranz—that's Dr. Ricardo Rosenkranz, rather—recognizes the connection between the mechanics of healing and belief in the possibility of healing, making his exhibition, currently occupying the cabaret space at the Royal George, less a "magic show" than a "show with magic" ( as Evita is a musical, but Threepenny Opera is a play with music ), its feats of legerdemain presented, not as mere clever stunts, but illustrations of principles necessary to saving lives.

To be sure, his demonstrations often employ tangible props—the drollest being Balsamo, an animated skull-in-a-box, but also alphabet blocks, Rubik's Cubes and the familiar silk scarves—while others replicate, with dazzling accuracy, such legendary illusions as the fin-de-siecle "Orange Tree" teleportation involving a quasi-E.T.A. Hoffmann automaton into whose botanical foliage an audience member's wedding ring flies, to be later restored to its owner by artificial doves, or a re-enactment of a gilded-age "ghost portrait" seance, originally staged by a pair of hucksters from Chicago's history.

Rosenkranz's soothing voice and benign countenance—remnants of his former profession—are a departure from the staccato delivery of, say, the Palmer House Magic Parlour's Dennis Watkins, but any potential somnolence arising from its tranquil tone is counteracted by the vivacious visual display inherent in a scenic decor featuring serpentine motifs drawn from Symbolist art and a collection of tschotchkes constituting a veritable museum of prestidigital paraphernalia.

The most heartfelt reminder of the close connection between health and death, however, is the memorial to the recently deceased co-scriptwriter Eugene Burger, called "one of the most influential magicians of the 20th century," launching the evening's activities. Though not physically manifest, his mentorly presence permeates this celebration of his craft and philosophy thereupon.


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