Fighting temperamental scorpions, impossible odds - and the age of jade: David Copperfield at DPAC | Arts | Indy Week
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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fighting temperamental scorpions, impossible odds - and the age of jade: David Copperfield at DPAC

Posted by on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 12:28 PM

Magician David Copperfield’s greatest adversary isn’t the sort of technical snafu that reportedly had him scrub one of the most amazing effects from his 5:30pm performance of An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion at DPAC yesterday afternoon: a 50’s model Lincoln convertible that we saw him, somehow, suddenly produce—not only out of thin air but set squarely in the middle of it, atop a set of pillars—despite a group of witnesses standing all around during the late show Tuesday night.

click to enlarge Tight like that: David Copperfield
  • Tight like that: David Copperfield

His true nemesis isn’t the 8-foot industrial fan whose whirring blades he walked through at another point on his way to…somewhere else, let’s say.

It’s not the stinger of the live black scorpion—or the attitude it copped at one point in the proceedings, leaving us in suspense before finally obliging our host with the payoff of another illusion.

It isn’t even some wiseguy local critic in the second row, who had the foresight to bring along a magician of his own—Joshua Lozoff, whose stage show Beyond Belief had two sold-out runs at Manbites Dog Theater and whose new show, Parlor Magic, is now playing at the Siena Hotel.

No: David Copperfield’s real opponent is the age of jade.

More after the jump.

If you haven’t looked in on Copperfield’s work in a while, his style has changed significantly from the super-serious, angst-ridden—and, in retrospect, melodramatic—persona of his earlier triumphs.

Good thing, since that dynamic is now being mocked pretty openly. A popular series of YouTube street magic videos may parody David Blaine’s urban performance style (in a viral marketing campaign for the French music, video and gaming website,, but those soulful—or is it menacing?—looks the magician's character gives the camera between tricks belonged to Copperfield first.

An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion boasts a series of effects that leave us, appropriately, mystified. Random audience members—chosen by flying Frisbees—determine a sequence of lottery numbers kept in a locked strongbox, suspended by a chain above the audience all night long. Another effect apparently crushes Copperfield’s torso to the size of a small shoebox, as seen in the photo above.

But on Tuesday night, Copperfield’s own persona—possibly fatigued from the second show of a day with technical trials—seemed overly world-weary. One of the most amazing parts of his production is actually the dispatch and efficiency with which he hustles audience members on stage, talks and walks them through the roles they play in his illusions, and then dismisses them. His real-time skills in stage managing a stream of amateurs rival his other, more arcane, achievements.

But repeatedly we got the sense our host was putting his effects—and us—through our paces with more than a note of disenchantment in the mix. Self-deprecating, low-key, candidly assessing his audience with a critical eye before delivering the arch one-liner, Copperfield’s persona on opening night could be termed a deconstruction of his former performing self—but one taken perhaps a step too far. At times I had the strangest sense I was watching a magic show being put on by a dentist on a really busy day at the office: We sensed no surprises, at least for him; just a series of procedures he had to do, hopefully with a minimum of bloodshed.

But what’s interesting is this: There were moments when a guest on stage flubbed an instruction, or a prop didn’t work exactly as planned. When they occurred, our host actually relaxed a bit. He grinned, laughed and patiently reassured his guest as he put things back on track. (That, or he simply waited for the scorpion to finish its hizzy fit and pick a damned card already.)

In those moments, Copperfield was off script, off the clock—and off the hook—from the mechanical efficiency of his theme-park ride of a show. When they were done and the rescued effect succeeded, there was a sense of shared enjoyment, on his and our part both. In those and several other moments during the night, happier eyes and a far more genuine smile on Copperfield’s face seemed to say, Isn’t that the coolest thing? I’m so glad all of us experienced it.

That’s magic. I hope a rested Copperfield finds more moments like them in both shows Wednesday.

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