As veterans of New York’s downtown theater scene, the members of the Talking Band—an experimental troupe whose founders trained with Joseph Chaikin—are well positioned to tell a story of generational ebb and flow. Radnevsky’s Real Magic alternates conjuring acts with the tale of illusionist Anton Radnevsky—once a famous prestidigitator, now obscure—as he reluctantly cedes the spotlight to younger magicians waiting in the wings. Some of the Talking Band’s antics are strange and amusing, others stale.
Creators Peter Samelson and Paul Zimet concoct some surprises, like an optical illusion in which we gaze at a spinning cardboard wheel, then at Radnevsky’s face—and it appears, oddly, to expand toward us. There’s an endlessly unfolding newspaper, and a striking sequence in which Radnevsky’s mentor harangues him from beyond the grave, the dead man’s face projected onto his terrified pupil’s chest. Luke Gopnik radiates youthful menace as the youngest protégé of all.
But some stunts are cutesy or obvious—card tricks, ball-and-cup routines—and conceptually, Radnevsky isn’t much sturdier than the house of cards the great magician summons from a scattered deck. The Talking Band never tells us why this intergenerational angst matters; “real” magic might have come from finding substance beneath the pyrotechnical fun.