Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Booze and the Blowens Cop the Lot

A besuited Ricky Jay comes on stage, says nothing, but says everything. For a man who savors the lithe and limber language of the flim-flam, it's a striking beginning. All he does is roll up his sleeves. Of course, there's nothing up his sleeves. But there's lots up in his show Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants, perhaps the ultimate display of card conjury matched by a museum curator's sense of detail, of detritus not grand enough to be history but nonetheless worth dusting off for our enjoyment. While his tricks awe, as his aces always wind up in the precise right places no matter his manner of shuffle, he sets each bit in context you never quite know whether to believe, either. Some of the stories are as wondrous as the card effects, and in many ways it's essential he tells the tales of those who came before--how many times has the cups and balls routine, which closes his show, been done? How many mouths has it left slack-jawed? Acknowledging them adds to the power, making the magic something more elemental and timeless. It doesn't hurt the show is set on a stage jammed with bric-a-brac, looking very much like Laurence Olivier's home in the original Sleuth (there's even an automaton in one bit, adding to the antique, carnivalesque flavor).

There's no trick, ultimately, greater than Jay himself, a portly, bearded man with surprisingly stubby hands for the grace with which they can manipulate the deck. He doesn't seem a man able to deal exactly what he says (or better, when needed, when a build up to a "how to cheat at poker" mini-seminar needs a topper), a man who is perhaps the only man to know of so many before him who could make cards do their bidding, could make words wiggle in an effort to con. He doesn't just recite a 15th century poem by Francois Villon, he recites a 19th century Victorian slang translation (from which this post's title is taken). Watching him you get to watch a whole history and it's as if the weight of years conspires against you, a simple rube who will bet and lose it all. And still think it was a blast.

If there are any tickets left and you can get to Los Angeles' Geffen Theater you should go. If you can't here's the opening of the show (from a much earlier performance of it, of course):

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Blogger Rickey Henderson said...

Amen for the Ricky Jay love. The dude is awesome, whether he's in a slick Mamet movie or doing card tricks.

6:29 PM  

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