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Review: THE MAGIC PLAY Intrigues at Syracuse Stage

Review: THE MAGIC PLAY Intrigues at Syracuse Stage
Brett Schneider in the Syracuse Stage production of The Magic Play. Photo by Mike Davis.

Syracuse Stage concludes its season with an intriguing and mystifying production of The Magic Play. The unique production features a cast of three actors under the astute direction of Halena Kays. It is positively entrancing thanks to the brilliant cast and unique script.

Magic tricks are used throughout Andrew Hinderaker's play and the audience plays a significant role - much like a typical magic show. For this reason, the performances will most likely never be the same twice - which is part of the fun. The opening makes the audience feel like they are attending a real magic show. There is a simultaneous live feed above the card table so that the audience knows that the magic tricks are live and in real time.

This unique play - originally commissioned by the New York-based Roundabout Theatre Company - was specifically written for starring actor and magician Brett Schneider, and features magic he created. It tells the story of a young and successful Magician (Brett Schneider) and his live performance where he effortlessly performs sleight-of-hand tricks and brings audience participants on stage. Unfortunately, during a live magic show, the Magician is distracted by both good and challenging memories of a relationship that recently ended with the Diver (Sean Parris), an aspiring Olympian. The play very much explores relationships and connections. The masterful Magician may have incredible control with his magic tricks; however, he doesn't seem to have the control to keep loved ones in his life.

The October 2016 world premiere of The Magic Play was at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago where it was directed by Halena Kays and featured actor Sean Parris as the Diver. Syracuse Stage's production reunites Ms. Kays, Mr. Parris, and, of course, Mr. Schneider. There is also a third actor Jack Bronis who plays "another magician." He has portrayed this role at the Actor Theatre of Louisville and Portland Center Stage. The experience each performer has with their roles certainly pays off for the audience.

The play is obviously scripted, but successful execution also relies on Schneider's impressive ability to improvise as various audience members come on stage to take part in his magic act. Some lucky audience members come on stage to draw cards, open a brand-new deck of cards, shuffle the cards, and confirm that The Magician is, in fact, using typical playing cards. The final act allows the audience to turn on and use their phones (a very bad thing in terms of theater etiquette, but it is alright because the lead actor gives permission). On opening night, interestingly enough, Schneider randomly selected my husband Jordan to come on stage for the final scene and final trick. The final trick allows the audience member to be in control of what magic the Magician will perform. Schneider's ability as an actor and magician is truly impressive and incredibly believable as he performs tricks, breaks the fourth wall, and improvises lines based on the audience member on stage.

Sean Parris as The Diver is confident, mysterious, and has amazing chemistry with Schneider as the recollections of their relationship unfolds. Jack Bronis also shows off some impressive comedic timing as he performs his own magic tricks.

Lizzie Bracken's set is very simple, but effective because it makes the audience feel like they are at a club watching a magic show where there is just a spotlight (lighting design is by Jesse Belsky), two chairs, and table at center stage. During the memory flashbacks, there is a diving board where The Diver performs some very impressive aerial moves under the consultation of Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi.

The Magic Play offers a truly extraordinary experience that will leave the audience in awe of the magic, but that's not all. Audiences will surely feel a connection to the story and undoubtedly be impressed by the acting and improvisation skills of The Magician Brett Schneider. The fact that each performance is unique is part of what makes it so fascinating. Syracuse Stage has once again brought a production to their stage that is unique and hypnotizing. The end of the season is pure magic.

Running Time: Approximately two hours with one fifteen-minute intermission.

The Magic Play runs from April 25, 2018 through May 13, 2018 at the Archbold Theatre in the Syracuse Stage/SU Drama complex at 820 E. Genesee Street Syracuse, NY. For tickets and information on this production and the 2018-19 season of Syracuse Stage, click here.

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