Some magicians hint that they really are magicians. David Blaine levitates. “Hey, look at me. I have mystical powers. I defy the laws of science!” Judging by his recent performance at Florida Studio Theatre’s Court Cabaret, Carl Seiger is not one of these magicians.
The lanky, self-taught Massachusetts native practices “close-up” magic, otherwise known as sleight-of-hand. Seiger fools the eye and the mind with playing cards, coins, rings and other everyday stuff. No flash bombs, showgirls or lightshows to distract you. For that matter, no claim of paranormal powers. “It’s an illusion,” he says as the act begins. Then he proceeds to tear a newspaper into tiny pieces then put it all back together — without the newspaper ever leaving his hands.
His thoroughly entertaining act is equal parts comedy and prestidigitation. Seiger has an easygoing manner, oscillating between sarcasm and self-deprecation. By announcing his act is an illusion, he’s effectively challenged the audience to spot how he does it.
Seiger opens with a mentalist bit, boasting of his powers of mind-reading while sketching on a pad. He asks a woman to think of an animal, furrows his brow in concentration, sketches away, then asks what beast she had in mind. “A cat,” is the answer. He flips the pad — a crude, stick figure drawing that could be any quadruped. “Ah, I forgot the ears,” he says. It goes on like that — a series of jokey responses leading up to what everyone in the audience is thinking: “This guy sucks.” Then, at last, Seiger asks another patron to open a locked box and read a letter he wrote to himself the previous night with all the answers.
It’s a slick performance that only pretends to go off the rails until the last possible second. If you’re not laughing your head off, you’re waiting in horror for the inevitable fail. Maybe this isn’t an act. But of course, it is.
Seiger gets a patron to guess a playing card, then produces that card from a sealed deck — a card (so the story goes) that he’d previously inserted from another deck. He pulls coins out of thin air and makes them vanish again. By the intermission it’s clear. He’s not going to crash and burn. And the audience totally trusts him.
In the second act, Seiger builds on that trust by demonstrating why he’s banned from certain gambling casinos. He hands out variously labeled envelopes (“yours,” “mine,” etc.) and, after a “Who’s On First” patois, distributes four and keeps one. One envelope has a $100 bill. He bets the audience that he’ll wind up with the money at the end of a swapping game. He does.
For his final proof of trust, Seiger actually persuades a woman to hand over her wedding ring, makes it disappear, and then (with accompanying gags and a little suspense) produces it from a Chinese box assortment of a box, lemon, egg and walnut. He ends with a parable of the threads connecting humanity together, severing and connecting a bright, yellow thread in the process. This warm demonstration earns warm applause. The audience trusts him all right.
Though, to be fair, when Seiger asks if anyone wants to join him for a poker game backstage, he doesn’t get any takers.
IF YOU GO
“Clearly Invisible ... Magic Up Close with Carl Seiger” runs through Aug. 3, at Florida Studio Theatre’s Court Cabaret, 1247 First St., Sarasota. Call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org for more information.