Review: MAGIC FOR ANIMALS at Hollywood Fringe Festival

Who knew feminism could be so flashy or veganism so visual?

By: Jun. 14, 2024
Review: MAGIC FOR ANIMALS at Hollywood Fringe Festival
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As the mystical opening chords begin to play and Liz Toonkel emerges in a stunning sequined costume designed by Stephen James, one might relax back into their seat, assured that a flashy, polished magic show which meekly follows the formula made popular by Copperfield and Blaine is about to unfold. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the simplistic Hollywood Fringe aesthetic of the blackbox space is not the only thing separating this magic show from its bigger-budget Las Vegas counterparts. In Magic for Animals, Toonkel has crafted a piece that invites audiences to reflect on our relationship with the animal world beyond the recitation of statistics from the standard PETA brochure thrust in your face on Hollywood Boulevard.

Though Toonkel was apologetic about the quality of the performance I saw, it is clear the show is thoughtful, articulate, gripping, and loaded with heart. Some of the most memorable moments include Toonkel bearing testament to assaults which colored her understandings of womanhood under the patriarchy. Fused with sporadic dry wit and illustrated by deft sleight of hand tricks, the stories take on a surreal quality, making them all the more emotionally effective. Flowing comfortably between stories, Toonkel maintains an air of warmth and care when engaging with audience members and inviting them to share their own stories. Somehow, her total lack of smarminess and full-hearted presence coax participants to share more than just the half-smirking jests which usually constitute audience participation.

Though Toonkel is dripping with stage presence, the real star of the show is the property design (specialty prop fabrication is credited to Nick Rodrigues, but based on Toonkel’s background, I’m sure she had a hand in some level of curation). I will not describe here any of the props that made the whole audience squeal with childish delight (some of them are the results of magic tricks or serve as visual punchlines after all), but the design is overall wacky and delightfully whimsical. The show culminates with some particularly well-staged silliness that seals the entire evening up with a beautiful bow.

I would love to see the show with a few more tricks in it, as especially the opening began to feel a bit more like a corporate retreat act with a few gimmicks worked in, but overall the piece is clean, heartfelt, and demonstrative of a level of craft that will make it a Fringe Festival standout.


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