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‘In & of Itself’: Derek DelGaudio’s magical feats open up your mind — and your tear ducts

The virtuoso applies an extraordinary personal touch to his highly focused hocus-pocus.

Each of the dioramas behind Derek DelGaudio figure into the stories to come in his one-man show “In & of Itself.”
Hulu

With all due and great respect to the prestidigitation talents of David Copperfield and David Blaine and Phil Dunphy and others of their ilk, I’ve never been an ardent fan of magic acts as captured for TV specials or films. No matter how straightforward the camera angles, no matter how long the unbroken shots, there’s always this nagging sense of:

Yeah, but they can do anything with CGI these days …

Maybe that’s not fair, but haven’t you thought the same thing once or twice?

That being said, it’s a tribute to the amazing and fantastically perplexing and singularly mind-blowing Hulu film “In & of Itself” that even though a few of the feats performed by magician/actor/storyteller/performance artist Derek DelGaudio in his one man-show could be explained away by the use of special effects (which DelGaudio does NOT employ, as far as we can tell), most of it just seems …

Magical.

Directed by Frank Oz of Muppets and voice-of-Yoda fame and with Stephen Colbert among its producers, “In & of Itself” is a “concert film” of DelGaudio’s one-man show at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Manhattan, which was produced by Neil Patrick Harris and ran from May 2016 until August 2018. Literally dozens of performances are incorporated into the film, with good reason, e.g., at one point, DelGaudio singles out someone in the audience, tells that individual they’ll be leaving before the end of the performance, and invites them to take home a dictionary-thick book containing handwritten impressions of the show from previous audience members who were told they’d be going home before the end of the performance and writing their impressions of the show.

Shew! If that sounds a bit like an M.C. Escher drawing, so be it. Throughout “In & of Itself,” DelGaudio breaks the fourth wall and not only addresses the audience as if they were sitting across from him in a diner but brings some individuals onstage and near the end walks among the audience, communicating with nearly every member of the crowd in a quiet, simple way that has the tear ducts working overtime.

The thirtysomething DelGaudio, who looks and sounds like the Most Average Man in the world and yet commands the stage with effortless ease, performs the work in a stark setting, on a stage containing two chairs and a table, with a ladder propped up against the back wall, which contains a half-dozen dioramas, including an automaton, a bottle of booze, a brass scale, the horizon at sundown, a brick penetrating a pane of glass and rows of mail compartment shelves containing dozens of letters. Each of these dioramas will come into play as DelGaudio weaves simple but mesmerizing tales about a pivotal moment from his childhood, an encounter he had with a man in a bar, how our perceptions can be clouded depending on our frame of mind or even the time of day and how a seemingly innocuous object such as the aforementioned brick can take on great meaning in a certain context. He even tells a variation on the parable of the six blind men who came across an elephant and identified it as a wall, a rope, a fan, a tree trunk, etc., depending on which part they touched.

Ah, but where’s the magic in all this? Glad you asked! DelGaudio is breathtakingly good at card tricks, good old-fashioned card tricks, pulling off feats that would make the late great Ricky Jay proud. He also takes the show beyond the borders of the theater when he asks audience members to name a well-known but random intersection in the city — and the gold brick that was once stuck in that windowpane appears on that very corner. (We see filmed snippets of attendees post-show at various intersections in New York City, laughing in delight when they see that yep, there’s the gold brick. One supposes DelGaudio could have an army of assistants, each with a gold brick in hand, posted throughout the city, ready to deposit said brick, but that seems like a stretch.)

In the most astonishing trick of all, DelGaudio invites an audience member onto the stage, has them choose from a handful of sealed letters, and invites them to read the letter while everyone looks on. In show after show, the chosen audience member is reduced to tears while reading a letter from a close relative or dear friend — a letter with details so specific the reader has no doubt it’s authentic. This has to be some kind of hypnosis at work, yes?

I don’t know. Maybe. I’m not sure. See the film for yourselves and get back to me. I’m not sure we’re going to be able to figure it out, but that’s the great thing about such magic, right?