I must confess, I went into the opening night with mixed feelings. Why, I wondered, would the venerable and esteemed Arena Stage lend its new play incubator, the aptly-named Kogod Cradle, to a show that appeared to be nothing more than piling on the existing canon of bad magician jokes? From the publicity materials on the show's Website, the featured "magicians," if one could use the word, are named Don Diamond, Daryl Hannah (no, not that one), and Louie Magic (!) They appear at best, to be deluded wannabes, and at worst just an exercise in cruelty toward the hapless nerd magicians that we all have met (and some of us have been).
I was wrong. I was not merely pleasantly surprised, but delighted with a show that is by turns fresh, silly, enchanting and profound. And here's the tough part: in order to show you how well-crafted, adeptly performed and ultimately satisfying Elephant Room is, I risk revealing too much. How much curtain can one pull back without ruining the surprise? Do I tell you how they do it? I'm a magician; it's against my nature. Plus, I promised not to tell.
Perhaps I'll just nibble around the edges, and whet your appetite to get your own tickets.
Here's what I can tell you: there is more to Elephant Room than meets the eye.
And I can add one thing you won't see elsewhere: the magic is very well-designed. It moved the plot and characters along, was transparent or mystifying as needed for the script. The show is full of magical inside jokes with plenty of sometimes affectionate, often pointed, send-ups of famous magicians.
It's one of the oldest tricks in the book. The magician shows you a trick, apparently shows you how it's done, and then stuns you by proving the explanation impossible. It's called a "sucker trick," and it's often done badly. At its worst, a sucker trick makes you feel stupid and angry at the performer. Done well, a sucker trick can be a gentle reminder that no matter how much we think we know, there is always another mystery.
Elephant Room does it right.
Elephant Room is directed by Paul Lazar and written by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle.
In the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage, January 20- February 26, 2012.
Reserved seats are $40. Buy tickets here.
1101 Sixth Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024.
Metro: Green Line Waterfront-SEU
Tel 202-554-9066(General), 202-488-3300(Sales)