No one was sawed in half at Paul Gertner's magic show at the Village Playhouse on Saturday. There were no dramatic sound effects or explosions or flashing lights. However, with nearly two hours of classic, and some original, sleight-of-hand tricks, Gertner kept a diverse, full audience enthralled for most of the show.
Ten Fingers, A Play of Magic blends personal stories about how Gertner became a professional magician with the tricks he learned along the way, from the early card tricks to learning to palm a coin to the mind-blowing trick that earned him a gold medal at the International Federation of Magic Societies' World Championships of Magic.
Gertner opens the show with a few old home movies from when he was young. His father had a tendency to film the pranks he pulled on his seven kids. He was all about the element of surprise, and when he died at the age of 47, Gertner decided he wanted to become a magician. He started out learning tricks from library books and eventually found mentors that helped him take his game to the next level. As we move through his personal history, from falling in love to having kids to making TV appearances, he shares the magic that went along with the different stages of his life, like a multiplying rabbit trick that wooed his now-wife, or a Seussian magic-wand poem he wrote for his kids. These stories made us feel invested in the show beyond the wow factor of the tricks.
Gertner used audience members to assist with some of the tricks, and their reactions, regardless of age, were consistently of awe and befuddlement. Whether performing a card trick for a 10-year-old or borrowing a $20 bill from a senior citizen, their reactions were priceless, especially when given a souvenir like a magic wand. Although only a few people made it up on stage, everyone in the crowd got a chance for fun when they found an envelope with cards under their seats and Gertner taught us how to do the Three Card Monty.
Unfortunately, the show suffered in the production department. Gertner had microphone issues throughout, and a loud popping noise was distracting and uncomfortable when he moved the wrong way. A projection screen meant to give audience members a clearer view of Gertner's hands was blurry and too bright, and as he wrapped up the show all the crowd could see was a desktop menu screen. Meanwhile, the set — a blend of the high school-gymnasium remnants from the Village Playhouse's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes and vintage posters and a cardboard cutout of a kitchen sink from Gertner's play — was messy and distracting. A simple black backdrop would have been so much more effective.