Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - December 4, 2014
The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible
Do that, of course, and their hands are no longer free for other pursuits. You know, like making cards leap around a deck, or into and out of someone's mouth. Or transform a crumpled piece of paper into a real rose. Or shoot an apple off a woman's head while also nabbing the engagement ring that was embedded in its core (her boyfriend standing beside her all the time). Or using a small piece of wire to pick open a padlock while someone is hanging upside-down while fully submerged in a tank of water. Given that all this and more happens during The Illusionists, I suppose they didn't need to add music to the mix.
Heck, throw in the dynamic lighting (by Paul Miller), outlandishly stylish costumes (by Angela Aaron), the choreography (by director Neil Dorward) for the team of dancers, and there's no shortage of spectacle to be found in this two-hour extravaganza. It does, however, run a little short on personality. That can be a problem. After all, at least half of most magic tricksand maybe moretakes place inside the mind of the viewer. Beyond basic mechanics, the conjurer must convince those in his audience that they're seeing something they know is impossible. And that requires establishing a rapport with them, which is difficult to do when little or no words are involved, no matter how mysteriously they grin or how severely they furrow their eyebrows (two frequently employed tricks).
Of the seven men who comprise the ensemble here, only three speak to the audience at any length. These would be Jeff Hobson, the flamboyant "Trickster," who cracks wise and nimble with the audience members he has help him play with cards or make an egg appear and vanish; Dan Sperry, a self-styled "Anti-Conjurer" who looks like a KISS refugee and insists he's not doing anything special while he effortlessly wins a game of Russian Roulette or makes a small flock of birds appear from an empty cage; and the endlessly likable Adam Trent, who has a habit of leaping 30 feet or more in a split-second and can make a table levitate while (apparently) not touching it.
Each of them has crafted a magnetic persona that inspires the necessary trust, and keeps things entertaining in the in-between moments when you're not being outright dazzled. In fact, I found myself looking forward more to these men's banter than their acts, which were indeed impressive but perhaps less distinguished than their easy way with a crowd and their ability to generate laughs one instant and gasps of astonishment the nextall while making it look like something they do five times before breakfast each morning.
Though Andrew Basso ("The Escapologist," who survives drowning and undoes a straitjacket while being flown), Aaron Crow ("The Warrior" with the apple hunting), Yu Ho-Jin ("The Manipulator," with a knack for turning scarves into cards and vice versa), and Kevin James (who cuts in half and reconstructs bodies, and makes it snow inside the theater) produce some pretty nifty eye-popping, they're otherwise on the boring side.
Not that this will matter much, admittedly, to the impatient youngsters at whom the show is obviously targeted, or, for that matter, anyone who cares more about being amazed than having a traditional "good time." The Illusionists lives up to its subtitle, as much of what you witness does indeed look impossible (or, at worst, improbable), and it's being handled by a septet of masters. But if you ask me, it's those among them who apply psychological misdirection and use our own goodwill against us to help create the illusions who most thoroughly rock the house.