Also see Sharon's review of All the Help You Need
There's the gimmick, and then there's the play. The gimmick of Peter Fox's Disappearing Act is that its protagonist is a magician and the show is interspersed with magic tricks which, in some way, relate to the main action of the play. It's a terrific idea, and actor/magician Micah Cover does a solid job putting the illusions over.
But this gimmick is not enough to save the play which, with the exception of the element of magic, is a fairly pedestrian affair. Cover plays Sonny, a successful Vegas magician. After one of his shows, he meets Molly, a graduate student in Psychiatry who is writing her thesis on magicians and wants to interview him. One thing leads to another and, despite her initial protests that her interest is purely scholarly, Sonny and Molly end up in bed. What follows is scene after scene of Molly trying to get Sonny to open up to her - either as researcher or lover - while Sonny steadfastly refuses. The dialogue is repetitive and the scenes tiresome. It isn't helped by Jennifer Chu's performance, in which she makes all of Molly's questions, even those in which she is supposedly a woman in a relationship talking to her boyfriend, sound like a therapist in session. For his part, Cover succeeds in making Sonny's individual lines sound real, but Sonny is never created as a full character. He simply comes off as "the magician who won't give away his secrets."
The whole act is summed up in a sequence in which, while performing a trick, Sonny recounts the history of magic, with its roots in the practices of tribal shamans. This demonstrates that Sonny's lifelong fascination with magic wasn't simply to get attention or impress girls, but reflects a more primal desire to master the mysteries of life. It is the one time in the play when the show's gimmick really works. At other times, the tricks bear little relation to the plot. (In one place, there is no relation. The dialogue suggests a trick dealing with reattaching something that has been broken, but the trick is a routine disappearing act.)
The play turns around in the second act with the arrival of a mysterious stranger. Jeff Doucette plays the stranger, Frank, brilliantly. Frank is a complex character; he isn't exactly who he represents himself to be, and he's carrying a secret or two beneath the one that is revealed shortly after his appearance on the scene. Doucette is wonderful, playing up the amiability in his drunken Irishman, but also relaying Frank's stubbornness and other less attractive traits.
Even with Doucette's terrific performance, however, the play can't elevate itself above the routine. While the specifics of Frank's secrets are somewhat original, the second act of the play is, when you get right down to it, a standard reconcile-your-past-before-it's-too-late sort of thing. And what's worse is playwright Fox fails to give the audience the big payoff scenes - the two key scenes you would expect in such a play happen offstage.
With the novel idea of interspersing magic tricks into the show, Disappearing Acts has the potential to be something better than a by-the-numbers play. But Fox's script isn't there yet, and a single captivating performance can't save it.
Disappearing Act runs at the Hudson Guild Theatre weekends through December 21, 2003. For tickets, call (323) 960-7789 or click www.plays411.com.
Jenine Smith in association with Hudson Theatricals presents Disappearing Act. By Peter Fox. Producer Jenine Smith; Associate Producer Jeff Thomas; Director Peter Fox; Stage Manager Jenine Smith; Assistant Stage Manager Jennifer Kardys; Set Designer Joel Stoffer; Lighting Designer Russ Ketteringham; Costume Designers Gelareh Khalioun & Nadine D. Parkos; Sound Designer/Composer Patrick B. Williams; Booth Operator Cyrus Moslemi; Carpenter Brett Radford; Publicity Betty PR; Poster Design Fred Baxter.
Photo by Robert Neches