We’re born with a vast sense of wonder, and in our final moments, we die with the same. So notes “physician magician” Ricardo Rosenkranz. With “The Rosenkranz Mysteries,” the neonatologist succeeds in putting some wonder into that great, long middle part that passes between the beginning and the end of our time on earth.
A Cornell-trained pediatrician who teaches at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Rosenkranz’s one-of-a-kind conjuring act explores the intersection of magic and medicine. As he plucks diamonds from thin air and makes bowls of water slosh and vanish, it’s clear that he could add “philosopher” to his resume.
‘The Rosenkranz Mysteries’ ★★★1/2 When: Through May 6 Where: Royal George Theatre Cabaret, 1641 N. Halsted Tickets: $50-$75 Info: ticketmaster.com Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Performing “The Rosenkranz Mysteries,” the titular magician is a mix of Khalil Gibran, Will Rogers and the Victorian-era fascination with spiritualism and the occult. Folksiness and telekinesis find common ground here, along with a constant barrage of things that seem wholly unexplainable.
Enter the Royal George Cabaret space for “The Rosenkranz Mysteries” and you’ll feel like you’ve entered the turn-of-the-century parlor of famed Chicago spiritualists Lizzie and May Bangs. Cabaret tables are crowded around a stage filled with antiques, burnished wood and soft lighting. The similarities stop there – The Bangs sisters were grifters who capitalized on the bereaved, conning the newly bereaved by promising to contact their late loved ones.
Rosenkranz is up to no such shenanigans. He delivers wonder and laughter in abundance, although his illusions are more luminescent than explosive; nobody gets sawed in half or made to vanish or chained upside-down in a locked water tank. Rosenkranz instead works with wisps of silk, crisp playing cards and small, sparkling jeweled rings.
It’s fitting that “The Rosenkranz Mysteries” was created by the living (Rosenkranz and director Jessica Fisch), but owes a great deal to the dead (the late, great Chicago conjurer Eugene Burger.) Burger died last year, but not before serving as the show’s “Chief Architect of Magic.” Burger isn’t the only magician honored as Rosenkranz messes with your mind. There’s a taste of Robert-Houden’s 19th century “Soirees Fantastique” to Rosenkranz’s show, evenings in Paris when Harry Houdini’s namesake would gather for eerie seances.
Rosenkranz can go deep, but he isn’t above groaningly awful jokes (“When I saw a woman in half, technically it’s billable hours”). But his demeanor is so warm and amiable that you’re completely willing to laugh along with him as he turns tongue depressors, pocket change and Rubik’s cubes into objects of otherworldly properties.
Throughout, he stresses the unlikely intersection of medicine and magic. Both, Rosenkranz says, boil down to the “unravelling” of a story shared between people – doctor and patient or a performer and his audience. Both demand that you put your faith in things you can’t necessarily see or even explain. And both medicine and magic create an intimacy between practitioner and lay person. Having somebody read your mind is about as personal as it gets this side of a pap test. Rosenkranz manages the former with startling acumen.
In addition to feats of seeming telepathy, Rosencranz incorporates a dozen witty, concise visual tricks into the production, each one coming wrapped in the context of life’s daily mysteries. With the “Puzzle of Life,” Rosenkranz destroys and re-assembles puzzles into shapes that the individual pieces simply should not be able to create. In “My Magic of Childhood’ he turns the (hilariously) brain-sharpening games his father played (“The Geography/History/Math Game was a favorite) into an exercise in predicting the future. Chaos and order are explored through the manipulation of a Rubik’s Cube.
At one point, Rosenkranz unveils a skull-under-glass. “Balsamo the talking head” is amusingly expressive for a being without skin. His patter with Rosenkranz is like listening to Edgar Bergen discuss the meaning of life with his dummy Charlie McCarthy.
Among the most moving segments is “Perfect Empathy,” when Rosenkranz appears to synch himself with the very heartbeats of his audience volunteers. Empathy, he says, allows people to transcend the barriers between them. As he moves through “The Rosenkranz Mysteries, ” that transcendence becomes more and more apparent. By the time a pair of flittering birds arrive with a lost diamond knotted into a delicate hankie, you’ll be all-in.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.