One-Eyed Men In the Kingdom of the Blind
“I’ve know Daryl and Dennis for maybe twenty years now, just through the magic community, but we have very different styles,” Louie Magic was explaining to me on conference call interview with the trio last week. “Like, I do mostly comedy magic–I’m based out of Patterson, New Jersey, I work at a club called Dazzles out there regularly. And I do ‘Louie Magic–the Ladies Man Magic’ that’s my stand up comedy act thing. That’s my bread and butter, I’ve been doin’ that for years. Very different style from like Dennis who does serious, serious mentalism, I’d say. And Daryl has his history with birds, so we have three very distinct styles of the type of magic we do. So I think it’s pretty clever for those guys to put us together.”
Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah are the magicians enlisted by theater artists Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle for Elephant Room, the magic-based theatrical spectacular that opened this week at St. Ann’s Warehouse and runs through April 8 (tickets $25+). Directed by Paul Lazar, the show incorporates the trio’s backstories to construct a plot for a mind-bending show that Culturebot’s Mashinka Firunts, who covered it during its premiere last fall at Philly Live Arts, described thusly:
Had Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge been furnished in 1970s nostalgia baroque and inhabited by a trio of dotty illusionists swathed in velour, the resulting spectacle would have borne remarkable similarity to the Elephant Room.
I admit, it was one of the more difficult interviews I’ve had to conduct (to say nothing about transcribe; I sincerely apologize should any quote be attributed to the wrong speaker). Forthright and genuine though they were, they seemed somewhat confused about details of their own project. So confused, in fact, that I began to suspect that the show’s creators were potentially exploiting their performers for the sake of making a show–a harsh but perhaps not unjust judgment against otherwise respected performers like Cuiffo (well known for his impersonation of Lenny Bruce) and Sobelle (of Philadelphia’s lauded Pig Iron Theater).
Asked about the genesis of the show, Diamond explained: “We’ve been touring around as individual magicians since for years, and we were up competing in Buffalo at the Society of American Magicians–it’s called the SAM convention–a couple years back, and these three theater guys kind of approached us after one of the competition rounds, and they said, ‘Hey, check this out man! We’re working on this new show about magicians, and we really need some people who have skills! We’ve been trying to figure out how to do this thing.’ And so Jeff, Steve and, oh shit, what’s his name? Trey! The three of them kind of approached us and said hey, we’ve got this grant, we’re working on this show about magic. So it was their idea to put us together. We wouldn’t normally–it’s kinda rare for magicians to work together.”
“For me, why I wanted to work on this project?” added . “It’s kinda wild. And it’s also a gig. You know, like, I’ll take it, you know? They said we were gonna be playing arenas and stuff like that. I was kinda psyched you know, because the first show I ever saw was Warrant at the Meadowlands. And they were like, ‘Well, we’re gonna do an arena, the Arena Washington, DC.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, dude!’ And we go down there and it’s like a little…it’s not an arena at all! It’s a little theater or something. So that was kinda disappointing but it was still fun.”
Suppressing a guffaw, I suggested that perhaps they’d been misled by Cuiffo, Lyford, and Sobelle.
“I will tell you this, Jeremy,” Diamond said gravely, “there was definitely some subterfuge in the way they handled the whole situation. We didn’t realize, for instance, that they were actually developing a theatrical production. We knew it would be a theatrical production, of course, we didn’t know it would actually be a play, like, a community theater project. Which is cool–there are some amazing community theaters where we’ve gotten to do this. So the Arena is just a fantastic outfit, they’ve got a wonderful program going on. And now, as you know, we’re going to Stan’s Warehouse in the Brooklyn area.”
“Listen brother, it’s not ‘Stan’s’ Warehouse,” Daryl Hannah interjected, “it’s ‘Satan’s’ Warehouse, man. It’s Satan’s Warehouse not Stan’s Warehouse, brother.”
“Well whatever it is, it’s a little off the beaten path,” Diamond said. “It’s a little unusual for us, but–we’re not that usual.”
Trying to find out back-stories on the three was often a failing endeavor, as a variety of tangents readily taken led us astray. Diamond, for instance, introduced Daryl Hannah as “Master of Birds, from Tucson, Arizona,” though I remain uncertain what, exactly, Hannah’s relationship to birds is (we can only hope the show, which incorporates their life stories, will illuminate this point). Asked how Hannah got into magic, he told me, “I’m actually a little bit going against the grain, like I usually do, because magic is something I came to later in life.”
“Listen, there’s all kinds of paths we go on,” he continued, philosophically. “You start off being…I don’t know, you start off being in the school band or whatever. You do this, you do that. I was lost. I was searching for something and magic came into my life right at the right time. I was 26 years old or something, I found my way into it as a kind of saving grace if you know what I mean. In particular, I was volunteering out at the Chippewa reservation outside of Tucson, and doing stuff with kids, doing little magic stuff for the kids, and they introduced me to the medicine man of their tribe. And he opened my eyes to a whole new world, a whole new world of magic. Not just little tricks with fingers and scarves, I’m talking about spiritual opening, you know?”
Curious what effect sharing a name with a noted Hollywood actress had on his career, Daryl Hannah became near irate.
“It certainly has not helped my career,” he said flatly. “That’s the first misunderstanding that happens. A lot of people will go ‘ha-ha’ like it’s a joke. But my name is not a joke. But it becomes a joke to people and that can be frustrating. Because my mother named me Daryl Hannah, and the biggest thing I try do through my magic is be true to myself. And my mother gave me that name so I feel it’s important to keep it, even though this other lady has this name–I’ve never even seen any of her films.”
“There did occur at one point a misunderstanding with many of my cohorts in the magic community,” he continued, “and also some friends of mine through rehab, but…they thought I had been arrested at the White House. ‘Cause I was in rehearsals for the show [in Washington, DC], and I guess she was there protesting beaver skins or something like that, I don’t even know what she was protesting. And they read a thing on Twitter, and they thought it was me. So I started getting all these phone calls, my sister starts getting all these phone calls, people were thinking I was in jail, and they were trying to figure out how to break me out.”
“I feel bad for Daryl though, because you know, Dustin Diamond and Louie Magic, those aren’t our actual real last names,” Louie Magic said. “Those are our stage names, and Daryl doesn’t even have a stage name, but everyone thinks oh, Louie Magic can’t be real–well, I did make it my legal name, now–but…”
“Thanks, brother,” Hannah told him.
Asked about the challenges of doing such an ambitious live show, Diamond recalled a recent hairy moment.
“They really are a wild-card, you just never know what you’re gonna get,” he said of audiences. “Recently we were doing the show in Washington, DC, and we brought a woman up onstage, and she just seemed darling. But it turned out that she just did not speak a lick of English. And this particular bit that Daryl takes care of, it’s pretty verbal. She really needs to understand what’s going on. She’s Japanese, just lovely, sweet as can be. Luckily Daryl spoke a little Japanese and muddled his way through it. But boy, there was a real communication problem.”
Several minutes were then given over the story of how Hannah came to learn Japanese, the details of which I can’t hope to summarize in digestible fashion.
The current moment hasn’t exactly been kind to magic acts. While Las Vegas still hosts well-regarded acts (the three agreed that Penn & Teller remain the benchmark), in the mainstream, magic acts only enjoy brief periods of popular attention (witness the 15 minutes of Criss Angel). I’ve seen a lot of performance in my life, but I hadto admit that I’ve never seen a professional magic act, so for own benefit, I tried to sort out how to tell a quality act from a bad one.
“How do you tell the difference between a good Hamlet and a bad Hamlet?” Magic asked sarcastically, before Hannah piped up in my defense: “How do you tell if one Hamlet sucks versus another Hamlet when you’ve never seen Hamlet before?”
“I can tell you,” Diamond offered. “If you go and sit in that theater and you are transported to another place in your mind, if the walls in that theater seem to elongate and change around completely so that you’re on the opposite side of the room, and if you see the cosmos in the eyes of those performers, you’ve seen a good magic trick. If you sit on the seat, and your feet never leave the floor, and you’re just watching and you see it all through the cracks, then it’s maybe not a good magic trick. Did it transport you? Did it move you? Was your mind turned to cheese? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to the above questions, you’ve seen something of value. Can you deny it? No, you can’t.”
Editor’s Note–We have received as-yet unconfirmed reports that the show’s creators and performers may be the same persons. Due to budget
cuts, the Culturebot fact-checking department is currently understaffed, and, at the moment, drunk at our East Village office, which is in fact a bar, and thus unable to determine the accuracy of this story. We regret the confusion.