- OTHER MEDIA
- Prepare for Enchantment
- SF Station July 13, 2007 (Nirmala Nataraj)
- Whether or not you were the kind of kid who practiced pulling a bunny
out of a hat ad infinitum for third-grade show and tell, most of us have
likely been indoctrinated with the idea that magic is a serious business.
That would, after all, explain the pinched expressions of concentration
that have graced patricians of spectacle like the Davids (Copperfield and
Blaine) for eons. And sure, theres virtue in spectacle -- particularly
when accompanied by Las Vegas pyrotechnics and nubile assistants -- but
its hard not to extricate megalomaniacal stunts from the hyuk-hyuk
ridicule thats invariably heaped upon their makers.
- Not so with Christian Cagigal, the ebullient, eccentric, immaculately
dressed host and creator of the Exit Theatres "The Pandora Experiment".
Cagigals deadpan astuteness, clipped asides, and, for crying out
loud, his accessibility are a valiant rejoinder to the histrionic tomfoolery
of most illusionists. Cagigal scopes out the audience in affable silence,
like hes sharing a private joke with no one in particular, and thus
begins a show thatll change viewers estimation of magic forever.
- Enacted on a teeny makeshift stage of the Exit Theatres café,
"The Pandora Experiment" is viscerally quite different from your
run-of-the-mill magic show. Theres a disarming quaintness about the
whole setup: a porcelain doll with a preternatural gaze sits propped up
on a miniature rocking chair, surrounded by curios and keepsakes, not to
mention several dusty volumes of Shakespeare and some antique music boxes.
Its the kind of whimsical backdrop in which the timelessness of childlike
wonder is cross-pollinated with an almost eerie historicity that made me
immediately draw comparisons with early 20th-century Theosophical Society
- As for the components of the experiment, they range from mind-reading
conjury to predictable card-dealing prestidigitation. Cagigal also posits
the idea that nimble thought can jump both sea and land (a
quote from Shakespeare that figures into the entire show quite strongly),
which at first seems like little more than a hokey, mind-over-matter apothegm.
In fact, several tricks dont technically seem to merit
oohs and ahhs, but Cagigal is so charming and self-aware that its
hard not to feel yourself swept up in all the enchantment.
- Whether or not Cagigal can actually read your mind, magically produce
a piece of paper that harbors your greatest wish, or draw the card you
were just thinking about are all entirely beside the point. Cagigal is
one of those rare alchemists of the imagination, so its the evocative
musings on intuition, childhood toys, and wishes that joggle viewers
senses and magically transport them into the realm of the extraordinary.
The narrative complexity of Cagigals show is another proviso for
all the magic. Each trick is connected to the others -- a ripped-out
page from a Shakespeare play (at the beginning of the show) is inextricably
tied to a dolls sphinx-like response to an audience members
question (at the end of the show). Each mystery is bundled in the next
like a series of Russian nesting dolls.
- The shows set design and carefully orchestrated seating arrangements
(which shift abruptly after the intermission) also bewitch us with their
subtlety. Cagigals speech being punctuated by a pendulum tock, and
a music box that haunts us with a tinkling refrain of Erik Saties
Gymnopedie are just a couple of the elements that add to the
sortilege. But perhaps, if you take into account the inherent creepiness
of dolls, Cagigals porcelain abettor becomes the unwitting star of
the show. Given the mythical significance of dolls, which were talismans
of power and markers of the unconscious way before Barbie entered the cultural
milieu, a scene in which Cagigals doll becomes a double for one of
his volunteers is both uncanny and brilliant.
- "The Pandora Experiment" is a show thats suspenseful
almost without meaning to be. Given all the supernatural cues, I almost
expected a Grand Guignol mashup. But unlike personalities like David Copperfield,
Christian Cagigal is no mere illusionist, and luckily, the claustrophobic
creepiness of the show is only a sly byproduct of what Cagigal seems to
want to achieve: a sense of transparency and connection to the audience.
The show is deemed an experiment, but its hardly a disinterested
or analytical endeavor. For one, the seats are set up so you can clearly
see everyone elses faces and reactions, which adds a layer of poignancy
to all the proceedings.
- Cagigal also exhorts audience members to greet his volunteers
(all hand-picked by him to help demonstrate the magic) with a friendly
hello, so that by the end of the show, you actually feel like
youre in good company. Also, unlike most magic shows, this one isnt
about trickery or deception, but rather, the sublimity of a shared experience.
The quiet intimacy of the staging, unlike most illusions (which are solely
superficial and surface-based), makes you feel like youre privy to
a very special secret, and that sense of mystery ripples through the entire
show and gradually into your very psyche.
- The title of the performance draws upon the Pandora myth, a sort of
prelapsarian story that has become analogous to the consequences of temptation
connected to societal progress and the human condition. Cagigal doesnt
dig so deeply into that metaphor here. Boxes -- namely, those of the musical
persuasion -- become a proxy for more numinous matters, such as the miraculous
potential of intuition and belief. When Cagigal asks spectators to close
their eyes and ruminate on their most heartfelt wish, you almost bargain
on yours coming true right at that moment. That age-old reliance on the
power of imagination is simply infectious.