Chicago Reviews

The Rosenkranz Mysteries: Magic Meets Medicine

★★★½

Review by Karen Topham, Americsan Theatre Critics Association member; photos by the Rosenkranz Mysteries

“How did he do that?”

This is the question audiences ask themselves upon seeing any good magician display his art. And viewers at the Royal George Theatre will indeed ask this question over and over during Dr. Ricardo Rosenkranz’s one-man show The Rosenkranz Mysteries: Physician Magician, as the magic is certainly remarkable. But that is not the only thing that matters to Rosenkranz, a faculty member at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who uses magic within his classes and with patients. He is fascinated with what he calls “the healing power of magic. There is something beautiful and wonderful about the unknown, and I think, in that sense, magic and medicine share a DNA.”

To that end, Rosenkranz does not merely perform tricks; he spends time meticulously setting them in a metaphysical space and working to make sure the audience is not only mesmerized but educated. In one early number, he magically creates holes in a scarf before revealing that scarf whole again. “Many magicians would have ended the number with the reveal of the holes,” he noted. But Rosenkranz wants his audience to understand that magic can be healing, and what better way than to “heal” the scarf?

This is a night of surprises, as magic acts usually are. But because Rosenkranz has learned his magic from the best (he mentions the late Chicagoan master magician Eugene Burger several times as a mentor), and because he has a stageful of artifacts he has procured at various auctions and sales, the surprises are often more elaborate than your average card trick. (He does do one of those, almost as if to prove that he can, as well as a couple of mind-reading tricks. But that is decidedly not the kind of meaningless magic the doctor is all about.) I don’t wish to say anything about his props for fear of spoiling things, but suffice it to say that you’ve probably never seen many of them before.

Throughout his show, Rosenkranz continually invites audience members up to the stage to work with, a way of showing that magic is part of everyone. On the night I attended, several of them reacted with genuine awe and surprise; being part of the action did not diminish the experience for them at all. (He also gave out small souvenirs of some tricks to his audience “volunteers.”)

Although the doctor speaks of his deep affection for magic in reverential tones throughout the evening, there are several highly theatrical moments in which he stops and allows his soothing voice and intonations to carry us off as we meditate on what powers it contains. These moments, and in fact his entire demeanor, are what distinguish Rosenkranz from other stage magicians. How much you enjoy the show may well depend upon how much you are willing to buy into his philosophies and his lectures about them. He is not a natural performer, and he has a tendency to take things very slowly, but that is part of the joy of watching him. We can indeed imagine him as our family doctor and wish that ours had half of the empathy he exhibits.

That I know how he did. He wears his love for magic and for medicine on his sleeve. And his director, Jessica Fisch, has crafted for him a lovely, lyrical show on a gorgeous study-like set in a corner of the Royal George Cabaret. Dr. Rosenkranz may not be the most polished of presenters, but his medicine—his magic—makes him unforgettable.

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