nytheatre.com review by Aimee Todoroff
August 22, 2010
On a rainy Sunday night in the East Village, a more than sold-out crowd gathered in the close quarters of the lobby at the Kraine Theatre with a sense of anticipation that was infectious.
We were waiting to see MagicMouth Theatre's production of American Gypsy, the one-man show starring the charismatic Ben Whiting. More to the point, we were waiting for magic to happen, and this show more than delivered. The play begins as a seemingly straightforward show put on by a street magician. Ben Whiting plays The Gypsy, immediately grabbing hold of the audience with his charming banter and an impressive display of skill. But like the best sleight-of-hand tricks, the idea that this is simply a magic show is classic misdirection, and before our very eyes, the confident Gypsy is transformed into the eager young Ben, searching for a mentor. He finds one in Jim Cellini, "the greatest magician no one's ever heard of," referred to in the world of the play only as The Busker, who in turn recounts his own coming-of-age journey under the tutelage of the legendary Tony Slydini, aka The Teacher.
Whiting embodies his real life mentor and the man who shaped him with a high level of skill, distinction, and reverence made all the more impressive by his ability to simultaneously act so well while performing masterful sleight-of-hand that leaves your jaw on the floor and your eyes as big as saucers. While on occasion the show's transitions can be awkward and the pace could be tightened in the more static moments, director Alexander "Sandy" Marshall deserves congratulations for crafting a frame so perfectly suited for Whiting's talents. With a cunningly simple set consisting of one red velvet-draped table, a chair, and one street performer's sign, an elegant lighting design, and a sound design highlighted by several versions of "Over the Rainbow," Marshall has performed his own sleight-of-hand by creating the illusion that we are suspended, for at least an hour, in a place that is both here and anywhere, now and anytime, never forgetting the lessons of The Busker, who repeatedly tells young Ben that "magic doesn't lie in the deception, it lies in the connection."
MagicMouth Theatre is dedicated to creating works that bridge the worlds of the theatre and magic artists. American Gypsy, their third original production, is focused less on story and is weighted more toward the remarkable illusions. I won't give away any of the surprises, but I will say that the simple beauty of watching Whiting perform the linking rings illusion is the most eloquent statement about the transformative power of art that I have seen on stage in a long time. As The Busker reminds us, "how things are aren't how they have to be." On a rainy night in the East Village, at the Kraine Theatre, MagicMouth Theatre and Ben Whiting proved that anything is possible.