WHAT: Night of the Magician
WHEN: January 31 – February 24 (see schedule for details)
WHERE: Chopin Theatre (1543 W. Division Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission
HOST: Screen Door
OUR RATING: Chance It!
If you’ve never been to the Chopin Theatre, it’s a treat for the senses. Part performing arts space, part cabaret and part 19th century cafe, this is the sort of venue Storefront City would love to own if we opened a theatre. It seems magical and timeless, and that makes it a perfect locale for Night of the Magician.
The company, Screen Door, produces live movie events, causing you to be assailed from all directions by sound, sight and movement. Prior to the main event, this movie begins like all other films on the big screen, but with a twist. Each night a different theater or screening company performs a live movie trailer, promoting their ongoing or upcoming performance – of course without revealing any of the plot twists. This week, it was Whiskey Rebellion Theatre, previewing their Whiskey Radio Hour. This is a great way to get coming attractions out there both fast and fun.
But on to the main event, which is Screen Door’s first feature length Live Movie, although back in March they premiered I Am a Rocket Scientist, a shorter sci-fi musical Live Movie experience. Written and directed by Jack Lawrence Mayer and David Milton Brent, Night of the Magician is screened before you, actors merge with the movie, sound effects are generated live by a foley artist and music is provided by a band, The Ides of March. In Night of the Magician, Matilda (Ellie Reed), a girl rendered mute by a terrible tragedy, seeks her lost brother (Daniel Desmarais) in a desolate industrial town. Pitted against her are the mysterious forces of Isabelle Lewis (Martine Moore), the heiress to the town factory, the mysterious Magician, and an awful Beast that lives in the woods.
Adam: I was extremely excited to attend my first ever live movie. It’s a concept that is so novel and innovative, that one is immediately intrigued, and with a title like Night of the Magician, you cannot help but feel you may be transported to those ancient picture-houses, in which music was twinkled out on an old piano, titles flashed in a bright white on black, and sound effects were invented by a “man behind the curtain.” All these expectations were met, other than that the piano man was actually a full-piece band.
What most impressed me about this production was the cast of amazing characters. The moody and otherworldly performances brought an uncanny realism to the film, which placed you at close quarters with each of the people involved. Mrs. Winter (Gigi Fenlon) provided an expressive, if all too brief, performance as an innkeeper, building tension in her exceptional attention to the very detail of her character. Another outstanding performance was given by Gina Marie Hernandez as the Healer, with a shocking videographic interlude that might be straight out of the opening sequence of American Horror Story.
Another detail I much appreciated was the scene selection, which perfectly painted the dark reality of an industrial complex that seemed to absolutely exist, mainly due to the careful knitting together of locations by a skilled director.
My one major criticism was not with the performance itself, but in its unfolding. Often, so much was occurring at once around me, that it became unclear on where to affix my attention. Mainly, I focused on the film screen, but I would have been interested to see the effect multiple screens around the room would have had, perhaps showing different perspectives, and thus allowing one to concentrate on the entire experience rather than a few select elements.
Alicia: Being a techie at heart, I’m like a kid at a candy store when I get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of how anything is created or performed. Because of this, my focus of the night was on the pieces of the film which were produced live right amidst the audience and screened right then and there. When I entered the theater space, it was hard not to notice a huge track laid down at the back of the house, which was used to guide a camera dolly. The rules regarding the camera dolly’s use were clear and strategic, with only stories ‘of the past’ being filmed, quite ironically, in the present. However, while the theory and practice behind these pieces of the production were quite masterful, I couldn’t help wanting to turn my head and watch what was really happening on the dolly track versus what was happening on the screen. What would have really made this a much more intriguing experience would have been if the track was integrated even more amidst the audience so as to become a much more present piece of the live experience.
Another intriguing component of the experience that just needed to take a few steps further was the traversing of actors from the screen and into the live environment and back again. I really wanted a more fleshed out 2D versus 3D experience, and while I was tantalized by a few beautiful transitions, particularly by the character of Frederich, there just wasn’t enough of a relationship there.
Overall, there just wasn’t enough “live” and “filmed” visual integration for me (the foley effects and live band really did their auditory jobs masterfully). The components were there, and I’m not sure if the space Screen Door produced in limited them in this respect (I can only imagine it must have), but some aspects of the night seemed too piecemeal, and it was odd having the last twenty or so minutes of the performance be almost pure film work. And ultimately, the least fulfilling aspects of the performance were the shadow puppets, which felt more slapped in out of artistic interest rather than really worked into the piece, but I usually set relatively high stakes for any production attempting to integrate this art form, so I shan’t be too harsh.
Final Thoughts: In our opinion, Night of the Magician provides a hauntingly beautiful performance in a developing art form. If you would like a unique experience that you cannot possibly get elsewhere, Screen Door provides it, and we are convinced that their production will only become more sure and steady in the future.
Although we sat in the main section, we suggest you try to get a seat at the very back of the theater (just beyond the tracks) if it’s a packed enough house. Although some of the sightlines may be difficult, this way, you’ll get a better vantage point of both the live film and foley work. Why not get a first hand look at what really makes this event live and breathe in the moment? And make sure to stick around in the lounge and listen to live music, have a few drinks at the bar, and enjoy the thoughts of others you just shared this experience with.
P.S. We would like to briefly comment on the behavior of some of the audience members throughout the production. During some of the more important parts of the movie, a select group of audience members took it upon themselves to laugh in a mocking, childish and totally inappropriate manner. We felt ashamed to be part of the same audience as these juvenile, haughty and blatantly discourteous individuals. We are of the opinion that such people have no place in the world of respectful theatre and should be removed to the unintellectually bawdy fringes where they belong.