Ricky Jay and His 52 AssistantsDirected by David Mamet.
Cast: Ricky Jay. Master magician and raconteur Ricky Jay presides over an enthralling evening of sleight-of-hand, trickery, philosophy and fun. It is no wonder the five-week Los Angeles run sold out in a matter of hours.
Above all, Jay is a scholar of cards and a historian of illusion and deception (his book "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women" became a CBS special). Whether he's tracing the origins of the classic "Cups and Balls" scams to ancient Egypt or exploring the roots of three-card monte in 19th-century America , Jay approaches cards, magic and trickery with contemporary intellect and devotion to his forefathers. Even for those who haven't fallen under the spell of a shuffled deck, Jay's fascination is infectious.
Far beyond the intellectual rewards of the evening, however, is the sheer skill of Jay's sleight-of-hand. He moves deliberately and flawlessly through each display of virtuosity, topping himself again and again with an understated theatrical flourish. It is one of those rare instances in theater when a performer literally takes the audience's breath away.
Director David Mamet, who clearly knows a good card game when he sees it, does a fine job staging and pacing "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants," which debuted Off Broadway in February 1994, and picked up a Lucille Lortel Award and an Obie.
Jay, who has been cast in several of Mamet's films, regards sleight-of-hand as a technique, a tradition -- almost a cult -- that has been handed down through the millennia with the primary purpose of fooling unsuspecting opponents. It makes it nearly identical to many other human endeavors --"Every profession is a conspiracy against the laity," he says, quoting Shaw.
The brilliance of Jay is that the audience believes it is learning something even as it is being fooled. Even during his patient explanations of how a series of shuffles might be employed to even the odds in gaming, he engages in sleight-of-hand several levels beyond the audience's grasp.
There is also a lot of terrific, side-splitting humor. When one of his demonstrations with an audience volunteer appears to go awry, Jay pulls out a series of wind-up toys to pick the right card. In the end, of course, it's one more wonderful scam.
Not only is Jay a card-handler, he's a card-thrower, picking out targets around the theater and zinging them with cards as near-lethal weapons. He proves this conclusively when he launches cards across the room, lodging them first in the soft red meat of a watermelon, then in the tougher rind. It's all great fun.
Set designer Kevin Rigdon, who has fashioned an inviting 19th-century parlor, and lighting designer Jules Fisher also make solid contributions to this magically memorable evening.
Great Quality DVD+R w/ Artwork. Comes in plain sleeve
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