‘The Magnificents’ really is magical

Avi Small, Writer

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Theater critics, this one included, are often guilty of misusing the word “magical.” Yes, often a theatrical performance can be transformative or profound. But magical? Really?

It’s really no exaggeration to say “The Magnificents,” a current production from The House Theatre, is magical. It is quite literally about magic, and the illusions and tricks that come along with magic in the real world. Through the use of different circus technique and a display of all sorts of magic tricks, “The Magnificents” tells a heartwarming story with visual panache.

“The Magnificents” centers on a traveling circus troupe as they encounter a young boy and cope with the declining health of their ringleader, an experienced magician. The makeshift family formed by the circus troupe is full of odd characters:  a clown, a strong man and a magician’s assistant. Some of the play’s finest moments are those in which the full ensemble is on stage together as a family.

For most of the show, this plot provides a loose framework in which cast members are able to display their circus talents. An aerial performance, a hilarious dinner party and a clever card trick are all illustrative of the way the production takes advantage of its actors’ skills in acrobatics, clowning and illusion. Toward the end of the second act, however, the circus tricks coalesce into what becomes a surprisingly compelling — and yes, magical — exploration of love and loss.

The show’s most impressive sections are those that prominently feature magic. There is nothing more confusing for a self-supposed rational person than to be confronted with illusions that so clearly contradict reality. There are all types of illusions in “The Magnificents” that use anything from saws to cards to cups to algebra. Not only do we appreciate the magic, we also appreciate the magicians who are displaying skill onstage. Each illusion is fascinating enough that some pragmatically minded audience members may get so caught up in deciphering the illusion that they miss part of the plot.

Therein lies the chief problem with this production. In between the “wow” moments of aerial displays and magic tricks, there still has to be some sort of narrative; often this narrative sags under the weight of insufficient character development. The final scene of the show is the one time in which narrative and magic collide into a beautiful conclusion; for the first time,the usage of magic tricks supports the plot rather than supplements it.

“The Magnificents” makes for a charming evening. It’s certainly not a deep and probing intellectual tour-de-force, but the wonderful magic and the sweet plot create a play that can surprise and delight any audience. It’s simply magical.