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Off-Broadway Review

NY Review: 'Elephant Room'

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NY Review: 'Elephant Room'
Photo Source: Scott Suchman
St. Ann’s Warehouse has produced miraculously good work at a pace few other organizations have matched, and "Elephant Room" hits all the markers for a good St. Ann’s production: virtuosic in an extremely specific discipline (in this case magic), spatially interesting (the entire stage is held up by cinder blocks, like a double-wide), and occasionally very weird.

It’s hard to know what to think coming into the theater. Three gents magically appear on a couch amid a plume of fog-machine smoke and begin narrating a mind-blowing journey that you, lucky audience member, will be taking atop a flaming bald eagle–stallion hybrid, in a way that sounds like the spectacle should be painted on felt and sold outside a truck stop.

This desperate cheesiness is a staple of contemporary magic shows, in which performers acknowledge the essential geekiness of the magic trade in order to win over an audience not accustomed to wonking out on Michael Ammar videos or arguing about who has the best double-lift on the close-up card-magic scene. But that low-rent self-mockery is polished into something far stranger in “Elephant Room.” The three performers—who call themselves Dennis Diamond, Daryl Hannah (no relation), and Louie Magic—seem to have stepped in from some strange parallel world where the lamp won’t turn on because the light bulb is filled with milk and an invisible elephant stalks a very small clubhouse.

The three men are very, very funny. Diamond and Hannah have worked together before on “All Wear Bowlers,” another surreal collaboration, and the addition of Magic rounds out the act with somebody a little more, I don’t want to say “normal,” but certainly fewer standard deviations away from normal than his castmates.

If the show, created by Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle, works well as comedy, it surpasses expectations as magic. I’m enough of a magic nerd to at least have an educated guess about how some of the tricks are done, but they’re so well-executed that it’s difficult not to gape when, for instance, Hannah pulls bottle after bottle out of a seemingly empty cylinder or leaps headfirst through Diamond’s chest and vanishes. The worst charge I can bring against the piece is that director Paul Lazar frequently has too much going on at once. I missed the moment when the microphone turned into an ice cream cone plugged into a licorice whip, because I was otherwise engaged with playing cards that were turning into little multicolored balls of fluff. The busyness creates a kind of Pinteresque chorus of weirdos, but I wanted to watch everything closely.

Christal Weatherly’s eye-watering costumes are also worth mentioning. Diamond’s holographic purple lamé cummerbund strikes a perfect balance between revolting and hilarious, and the rest of the crew’s various iterations of loungewear live down to that standard.

“Elephant Room” is not going to change the dramatic landscape forever, but it is more or less the platonic ideal of the buskers-made-good style of performance that finds berths at venues like the New Victory Theater and Ars Nova. Long may it baffle and amuse.

Presented by and at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water St., Brooklyn, N.Y. Tue.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (212) 352-3101, (866) 811-4111, www.theatermania.com, or www.stannswarehouse.org.

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