The Magic Cabaret
Playwright: David Parr & Joe Diamond. At: TMC Partners at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; www.greenhousetheater.org; $20. Runs through: open run
The Magic Parlour
Playwright: Dennis Watkins. At: House Theatre of Chicago at the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe St. Tickets: 773-251-2195; www.thehousetheatre.com; $75 . Runs Through: open run
Once upon a time not so long ago, exhibitions of magicnot the Vegas-sized spectacles we nowadays equate with that term, but mind-boggling manipulation of physical objects occurring at sufficiently close range to forestall hidden cameras or slyly-placed mirrorscould be found all over Chicago. These days, urban fans of this entertainment genre still have two weekly opportunities to satisfy their enthusiasm for experiences defying the laws of probability.
Since 2007, David Parr and P.T. Murphy (the latter now succeeded by Joe Diamond) have paid homage to the legendary Matt Schulien, who popularized "Chicago-style" legerdemainknown more widely as "table magic"in his legendary Lakeview tavern. Likewise intimate is this cozy show, occupying the smallest of Lincoln Park's Greenhouse studios on Wednesday nights, where the lanky Parr and sturdy Diamond demonstrate such classic hocus-pocus as the "Chicago Closer" and the prop-oriented multiplying rabbits, as well as some eerie "phantom light" levitation, while never losing their hostly congeniality. This show is recommended for ages 13 and up.
By contrast with this homey atmosphere, Dennis Watkins' Friday night show is performed in a wood-paneled, sconce-lit private room (admission price includes drinks) at the Palmer House, whose concourse once featured a shop for amateur prestidigitators, according to Parr. Watkins is a founding member of the award-winning House Theatre of Chicago and himself descended from three generations of illusionists. With the face of a Renaissance angel and the patter of a county-fair auctioneer, he first acquaints us with the basic elements of stage magicrestoration, teleportation, etc.and then proceeds to illustrate them, one by one, his hour-long demonstration culminating in a dazzling stunt involving a body-sized balloon, a deck of cards and a deadly-looking switchblade knife.
"The point is not to fool people, though fool them you must," Watkins' grandfather once told him, "The point is to help them imagine." Scam artists can humbug us, after all, but these magicians answer their call with a humility that renders us perfectly willing to be bamboozled by their chicanery, eagerly assisting them in our deception. Parr and Diamond even go so far as to return the favor, instructing us in a step-by-step drill with our very own cards, so that each one of us can share in the wonder of our own extraordinary powers.