Did you know that Pittsburgh is home to what many consider to be one of the most prestigious and professional magic venues in the country?
That would be Liberty Magic, a tiny venue on Liberty Ave that reopened just last week with the highly entertaining and utterly delightful “Journey of the Master” by Chris Capehart, one of the country’s top close-up magicians.
The title of this show sums it up: Capehart is, as he confidently reminds his audience again and again, a “master magician” who can “do this stuff all day long,” and he structures his delivery of various sleight-of-hand illusions around the narrative of his evolution from tyro to seasoned professional. Each set of illusions represents another step on his developmental journey, beginning with card and coin tricks, and ending with a series of illusions that I’m still thinking about in wonder, several days after seeing the performance.
Capehart began his career as a street performer, and he brings a street performer’s charisma and vibe into the intimate setting at Liberty Magic, with a constant, witty patter that swings between wry self-aggrandizement (“this is so simple, so simple!”) and goodnatured digs at his audience. More than perhaps any other form of performance, magic is about manipulating and directing a viewer’s attention, and as masterful as Capehart is at creating close-up illusions, he is equally if not more masterful at managing the psychology of his audience. In particular, he plays like a cat might play with a mouse with the viewer’s natural craving to figure out how his magic is done. For example, he opens the show with an old chestnut: poking a knife through a deck of cards. He then invites a member of the audience to try to do the same – and if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to suss out the trick, you might smugly notice that he seems to be covering a specific spot on the deck of cards with his thumb, making it impossible for the audience member to replicate the trick. But just as you’re congratulating yourself for having seen through the smoke and mirrors, Capehart ups the ante, and makes something happen that seems actually, really, magical (no spoilers here!) This is a repeated pattern in the show – Capehart bounces back and forth between performing what might seem an “obvious trick,” and conjuring the unbelievable, keeping his audience in a state of happy disequilibrium.
All of Capehart’s magic, I should add, is happening in full light and close quarters: this is not your Las Vegas-style laser-and-fog type magic show. Which makes it all the more of a mindfuck, for example, when Capehart manages to levitate a table and then invites a member of the audience to come on stage and hold on to it. At such short distance, you’d be able to see fishing wire or magnets, so: ????
Cat 1, Mouse 0.
Here’s where I should send fair warning: if you’re the type who would rather not be roped in as an audience participant, choose seating in the back row. But don’t let the fear of getting called on stage keep you from catching his act before it leaves town at the end of the month. He’s a master, he’ll definitely fool you, and you’d be a fool to miss out on his journey.