Derek Hughes is not particularly Mephistophelian. Though he’s tall, slim, and draped in black, his comely looks and unaffected mien lend him a boyish charm. In Necromance: A Night of Conjuration, at the new Dixon Place, Hughes works his paradoxical appearance to his advantage. The show attempts to marry magic with performance art, allowing Hughes to mix offhand musings about contemporary culture into a splendid program of card tricks, legerdemain, and mentalist feats.
Hughes pleasures and perplexes his audience, often using an unwitting spectator as an assistant. He maintains an easy rapport with these involuntary aides, teasing them out of hesitance. Viewers may find themselves shuffling cards, demonstrating telepathy, surrendering a Rolex to a sledgehammer, or illustrating principles of voodoo. Smoke, Hughes explains, often acts in Afro-Caribbean religion as an incantation. “So,” he smiles, taking a drag of his cigarette, “by enjoying this Marlboro Ultralight, I am bringing voodoo gods down to Dixon Place.”
Though quite capable of delivering a one-liner or eliciting a laugh by scrunching up his face, Hughes ultimately proves a better trickster than storyteller. Director Christopher Bayes helps things along, encouraging changes in pace or tone and indicating new sections with some comically ominous music, but the evening never quite coalesces, nor does a clear portrait of Hughes emerge. But put a pack of cards in his hand— or a cigarette, a glass bauble, a pencil— and the results are fantastic indeed.