Review: Derek DelGaudio Elicits Wonderment and Deep Thought in New In & Of Itself Film
The conceptual magician's hit off-Broadway show is now available to a wider audience in a new filmed version on Hulu.
For those who thought magic shows were simply about combining illusionism and showmanship to elicit states of astonished wonder in audiences, Derek DelGaudio's recent off-Broadway stage show In & Of Itself had the force of a revelation. Though he by no means stinted on amazing spectacle, his feats were couched in a context more personal, emotional, even philosophical than the norm. In & Of Itself was as much about deconstructing magic as it was about dazzling us with it, inspiring us to get in closer touch with the illusions in our own daily lives: the importance with which we subconsciously imbue everyday objects, the identities we assign ourselves and others.
For those who missed its extremely popular, much-extended run at the Daryl Roth Theatre back in 2017, a filmed version is about to land on Hulu this Friday, January 22. Considering that, according to a New York Times Magazine profile in 2017, DelGaudio turned down multiple requests to perform on late-night talk shows "because cameras flatten the work," one can't help but speculate about whether there was some initial resistance on his part to present a filmed version of his show at all. As scrupulously filmed as a live performance can be, there's a certain distance inherent in the cinematic medium that pales in comparison to seeing a show in person, especially one as intimately scaled as this.
Thankfully, Frank Oz, who directed the stage production, has also directed the film, and he and DelGaudio have come up with some imaginative solutions to making In & Of Itself play well onscreen. The most noteworthy of them is Oz's inclusion of animation — charming watercolor moving images designed and directed by Steve Conner, Tim Luecke, and Kirill Yeretsky — to illustrate some of DelGaudio's more fanciful stories, as well as the inclusion of home-video footage to add visual heft to his personal anecdotes. Less successful are a couple of moments where DelGaudio adds his own voiceover commentary while he's setting up some of his tricks onstage, which not only distract from the sheer hypnotic rapture of watching him work, but mostly restate themes he has already elaborated on more poetically in the show.
What makes In & Of Itself interesting as a film, however, is the way DelGaudio and Oz emphasize the differences of both mediums. Whereas a film generally requires meticulous planning and rehearsal before the cameras are turned on, live theater offers the possibility for spontaneity and surprise, with the knowledge that no two performances can ever be exactly alike.
DelGaudio's show toys with such possibilities, in particular with a couple of moments involving audience participation — most memorably, a trick involving a letter that magically materializes in front of an audience member from a loved one. Instead of just presenting one particular evening's performance, though, Oz and editor Michael Robinson Fleming present montages of moments from multiple performances, thereby reinforcing the transient nature of the theatrical medium. In that sense, even if you were lucky enough to see In & Of Itself live, you'd still get something new out of seeing this filmed version.
The main attraction of In & Of Itself remains DelGaudio's magic, which has lost little of its potency in its translation from stage to screen. The illusions remain as astonishing ever: among them, a gold brick that disappears underneath a house of cards, and card tricks that are miles above what you'd see at a normal run-of-the-mill magic show. (There are even more jaw-dropping feats of mentalism, but I wouldn't dream of spoiling them here.)
Even more impressive for me this time around is DelGaudio as a stage performer. He presents himself as an unassuming, if impeccably well-groomed, everyman, and those moments when he gets visibly emotional onstage recounting, say, his realization as a child that his mother is a lesbian, are even more powerful when we see him act them out a second time. He's as terrific a solo performer as he is a magician: willing to bare himself emotionally while still having the discipline to remain "in character."
Not only do DelGaudio's skills as performer make In & Of Itself feel unusually personal among magic shows, but it gives depth to his broader existential musings. The show has the power to make you think differently about all those objects and thoughts in your life that you take for granted daily, and it does so in a superbly dazzling and entertaining package. That alone makes it worth watching, no matter the medium.