Chicago Reviews

“You want to own a bookstore?”: An amazing evening of magic with Brett Schneider

By Joe DeRosa; photo by Eve Rydberg

★★★★

I was seven-years-old in April 1983, when I watched David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear. Ok, so, not really, of course, but that’s what it looked like to the live audience in New York and the millions who watched it on TV, including me.

In his twenty TV specials, Copperfield made a Ferrari float, he levitated over the Grand Canyon, he escaped from Alcatraz, but to me, it felt like mostly he made stuff–generally really big stuff, like commercial airliners and famous American landmarks–disappear.

That’s one kind of magic: the big kind. Copperfield tells you magic is real, and you know it’s not, but then he does something too big to be fake in front of thousands of people, and you watch and wonder… How did he do that? Then you put together your theories and guesses, and you never really know. It’s fun. It’s as though a big spectacle and pretty good riddle had a baby, and that baby just happens to have great hair and is handsome in a tongue in cheek, mysterious, intentionally over the top sort of way. But, for all the showmanship and theatrics, most of the fun is in the guessing. You think… I know how he did that… Do I?

But, it turns out there’s another kind of magic. The Brett Schneider kind. It’s tough to explain, but I saw the show, and I’m pretty sure I felt it, so I’ll give it a shot.

Here goes… If Copperfield’s magic is meant to amaze and fool you, Brett Schneider’s magic is meant to bring you in. To make you feel something akin to the opposite of being fooled. It’s meant to make you feel connected.

I will not go into specifics. No trick spoilers. I don’t want to ruin a single moment for you because I really want you to take your thirty bucks and go buy a ticket to see this show. Bring a friend. Highly recommended, by the way, if you couldn’t already tell.

Here’s the thing. Schneider’s act is like watching your really sensitive, unbelievably likable, super excited friend explore an undiscovered magical country. And it’s a little nerve-wracking because you just now learned the place existed and he is counting on you to come along. Schneider is walking a tightrope of sorts, but there are no flaming hoops, no flying arrows, no magic bullets. The tightrope is an idea–his idea about what magic is and what it can do. So, for seventy minutes he shows you that even though the kind of magic you always knew wasn’t real, well, isn’t, he can give you a different kind of magic, a new kind of magic you never even knew you wanted. I know, right?

Absent trick spoilers, here’s how it goes. First, he walks on stage like it is entirely possible he wandered into the theater by mistake. It is a non-entrance, and he is the anti-Copperfield. Then, looking kind, thoughtful, and not the slightest bit mysterious, he tells you he started learning magic so he could do something to make people want to be around him, want to talk to him. He wanted to feel more… connected. But he found out magic kinda does the exact opposite thing, which, by the way, is totally true. There are a helluva lot of people who hate magic shows because they just end up feeling lied to and stupid. In other words, fooled. Then he tells you that he always wanted magic to be real, and when he was a kid he would sit in his bedroom practicing and hoping that… maybe… someday… But it never worked because, of course, magic isn’t real. And you think, So that’s it for the show. What are we going to do for the next sixty-five minutes?

Then he goes one step further. He tells you he’s not going to tell you the secrets to the tricks and you probably wouldn’t want to know the truth anyway because the truth about magic is ugly and really disappointing.

This is when he gives you the big idea. What if he can bring us all a little closer together, read our minds, make us feel something? What if he can make us feel a little more connected?  Wouldn’t that be a kind of magic?

What follows is nothing short of remarkable. And it also happens to be amazingly entertaining. Without giving it away, his act is, at once, utterly consuming, deeply personal, and, somehow, completely non-threatening. It is like having a good friend in the room who just happens to be able to read fifty minds at once while, somehow, passing his gift along. And instead of one magic trick followed by another, the act is interwoven, so even the mistakes, which seem endearing in the moment–as if to say, magic is tough stuff, but he’s really trying out there–turn out to be deeply revelatory in the end.

Ok, I said no spoilers, but maybe just one. And it’s not really a spoiler unless you’ve always dreamed of owning a bookstore and you’re planning to go see the show this weekend and think about said bookstore in the middle of the act. Still, when Schneider hit the pause button on a trick that was blowing the room away and looked out into the audience and said that he was getting a little confused by all the thoughts in the room and, in particular, by someone who was thinking about a bookstore, and then he looked at me and said, “Oh, that’s you, you want to own a bookstore?” in a way I can only describe as matter of fact, and maybe a little surprised, I would have to admit I felt… connected. I had long ago been swept away and had stopped trying to figure out how he was doing it. The show was too good. Maybe it was a trick, but I didn’t care. By the time he had read my mind in front of a theater full of people, out of the clear blue sky, I was already completely taken in, and though he told us there was no such thing as magic, it sure felt like it to me.

Communion: An Evening of Magic by Brett Schneider and directed by Elana Boulos is showing at the Den Theatre Upstairs Main Stage at 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at thedentheatre.com. Recommended Ages 13 and up, but I took my eleven-year-old daughter and she was totally cool with it.

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