Smoke and Mirrors Theatre Review – This “Smoke” Billows With Magical Marvel

Albie Selznick performs some magic

(North Hollywood, CA) September 2013 – There are many ways that an artist deals with pain. There’s painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, writing (in this case, coming from personal experience, it does indeed work), and other forms of creative expression. For actor Albie Selznick, it was magic. And it’s this type of imaginative exploration that has resulted in a show that has been extended to almost a year at different venues in Los Angeles county. At The Road Theatre, actor-magician Albie Selznick deftly combines mystical magic and personal pain, resulting in joy and wonder.

It all begins with a card trick…actually, a number of card tricks performed in the lobby at The Ford Theatre by the skilled 15-year-old card magician David Valdes. After impressively wowing the spectators with his deftness, the show continues inside the black box theatre, where he and his colleague (an endearing Angie Hobin) entertain the audience with a couple of more slight-of-hand abilities before having everyone fill out a card containing: their name, their fears (which plays an important role in Selznick’s main show) and their favorite childhood toy.

Albie (center) performs a trick on Houdini's wife (Brandy LaPlante, left) while Trixy the rabbit assists

After sealing these documents in a specially locked box for future use, the game is set for Selznick, whose 90-minute (no intermission) show delves into his life where, beginning at the age of nine, he explores magic as a form of dealing with the death of his father. The grief from that trauma, as well as his painful experiences growing up alone as an awkward teen, is magically locked away in a “Fear Box” as the audience is witness to Selznick demonstrating how he accomplished all his auditions to become a member of The Magic Castle, as well as becoming a world-traveling magician. His amazing routines during this show include simple slight-of-hand tricks, complicated levitation illusions, tricks involving disappearing and reappearing doves, and even swallowing razor blades. Throughout his monologues that deal with his life and his admiration of Harry Houdini, as well as the magical routines, he is accompanied by a giant rabbit named Trixy (Hobin again, whose physicality is truly impressive in terms of communicating a whole range of emotions), the ghost of Harry Houdini’s wife, Bessie (a playfully elegant Brandy LaPlante), and a pompous know-it-all oracle in an orb. As Selznick grows older and the magic becomes more ambitious, he ultimately faces his fears regarding his overall purpose when he performs the ultimate magical act that combines the fantasy of magic and the reality of his life.

Albie faces his fears

Although accompanied by talented colleagues, this is truly Selznick’s show, and he has the charisma, the wit, and especially the self-deprecating humor to win the audience from the very moment he appears on the stage. He expertly shows the various stages of his life from being a child with a lisp, to an insecure teen, to an adult who has the courage to face the demons of his life. His story is worth telling and being shown. His magical abilities and routines enhance the narrative he conveys. Even more impressive is his improvisational skills, which allows more intimacy between him and his audience. He carefully balances both halves of his show—the spectacular magical routines and the heartwarming (and heartbreaking) monologues of his life—and fuses them together as though they were the handkerchiefs that Trixy (Hobin) masterfully combines into order to create her “superhero cape.”

A little magic with a little friend

Director Paul Millet adds his own creative expertise to the fluidity of the show. As a seasoned director of modern dramas and comedies, Shakespearean plays, and literary classics for Unbound Productions’ Wicked Lit and History Lit, Millet knows very well when to add his own touches and when to allow Selznick the freedom to perform his magic, both figurative and literal. The staging is spacious where it gives room for the performers, but somehow adds to a special type of intimacy for the story being told. Using musical and video transitions between each stage of Selznick’s life keeps everything in context, never losing track of where the story is going. Millet’s methodical and imaginative direction compliments Selznick’s tour-de-force performance, making Smoke and Mirrors an enchanting experience for all.

Peter A. Balaskas is a journalist, published fiction author, copyeditor, and voice-over artist. 

Smoke and Mirrors runs until November 3

The Road Theatre

5108 Lankershim Blvd.

North Hollywood, CA

Photos by The Road Theatre Company

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