Playwright: Eugene Burger, Jessica Fisch, Ricardo Rosenkranz. At: Opus Magna Musica at the Royal George, 1641 N. Halsted St. Tickets: $50-$75. Runs through: Jan. 22
It's not merely the nimble fingersthe mechanics are the same, whether the perpetrator is a professional illusionist charging hefty admissions in Las Vegas or a bartender short-changing an unwary customer. What makes us eager to be bamboozled by a stranger into mistrusting our own senses is the story attached to the manual dexterity. Even when we know how the deception is accomplishedas in the Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin stunt involving a box containing a silk scarf whose weight fluctuates dramatically without human assistancethe hocus-pocus takes on new meaning when we are told that the box is like a sick person and the scarf is like the illness.
Oh, did I mention that our magician is a doctor? This may seem surprising, since nowadays we think of medicine as a science for "fixing" broken bodies, but from the beginning of time, healers have attested to the role played by circumstance, psychology and sheer luck in curing disease. A proponent of patient-centered health care, Ricardo Rosenkranz often concludes his University classes with magic tricks to illustrate the connection between, and importance of, the physician and patient's confidence in one anotherfor without the empathy generated thereby, nothing miraculous can happen.
This isn't a lecture hall, however, it's the cabaret room at the Royal George, a chamber only slightly bigger than that of the Palmer House's Magic Parlour show, but crammed with a veritable museum of antique artifacts from the golden age of stage magicnotably, a self-blooming rose bush and a re-animated skullcollected by our host ( in itself, reason enough to attend the show ). Our magician likewise rejects the sly-trickster persona invoked by so many of his ilk, instead proceeding at a leisurely pace and addressing us in the gentle tones of a middle-school teacher whose faith in his calling remains unexhausted.
None of this diminishes in any way the feats of "paradigm shift"a phenomenon of perception associated with double-image picturesat the heart of his mission. These encompass demonstrations of prognostication, restoration and empathetic calculus, employing such familiar objects as cards, coins and alphabet blocks, but also a replication of a seance conducted by Chicago's gilded-age spiritualists, Mary and Elizabeth Bangs, who not only purported to commune with the departed, but to persuade them to pose for a portrait. You can try to guess the secret of a blank canvas transformed to an ancestral likeness right before our eyes, but your evening will be no less entertaining if you just trust the doctor.