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Reviewed by:
  • In & Of Itself by Derek DelGaudio
  • Daniel Ciba
IN & OF ITSELF. By Derek DelGaudio. Directed by Frank Oz. Daryl Roth Theatre, New York City. Steamed, January 22, 2021.

More than just another magic show, In & Of Itself is an impressive journey of self-reflection. While sharing a series of seemingly random memories, Derek DelGaudio continually deconstructs the concept of identity while making familiar magic tricks (sleight of hand, mentalism, and card manipulation) take on new and surprising meanings. From beginning to end, DelGaudio’s magic reveals how identity is merely an illusion.

Hulu’s streaming version of In & Of Itself captures DelGaudio’s unique blend of magic and storytelling. Director Frank Oz (of Muppet and Star Wars fame) interspersed home videos from DelGaudio’s childhood, strategically placed voiceovers, and other supplementary animations throughout the filmed version as visual accents that heighten the mystique created during the 552 live performances of the show’s Off-Broadway run that ended in 2018. Because of this, In & Of Itself illustrates several dramatic possibilities uniquely available to filmed productions that juxtapose the responses of dozens of live audiences with the variance possible for each single show, a variance that reflects the search for identity at the heart of DelGaudio’s work.

DelGaudio’s impressive and sometimes astounding illusions connect in their exploration of how society forces individuals to play certain roles. Oz opens the film by presenting how live audiences entered the performance space—by encountering a wall full of cards in the lobby of New York City’s Daryl Roth Theatre. Each card was labeled with a different identity from which audience members could choose, ranging from the occupational to the metaphoric: I am a Teacher, I am a Skeptic, I am a Unicorn, and so on. DelGaudio referred to the identity cards chosen by each night’s audience at several key points of the performance, encouraging the audience to consider how identity is a relationship between self-reflection and societal imposition. As DelGaudio questioned his own identity, he charted a course for audience members to interrogate their own experiences with and usages of identity labels.

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Derek DelGaudio in In & Of Itself. (Photo: Matthew Murphy.)

Accenting the show’s central theme, its sparse set (designed by DelGaudio and Glenn Kaino), contained six different windows into DelGaudio’s identity. The first window, a puppet with a gun pointed at its head, references an encounter DelGaudio had with a stranger on a trip to Spain. The stranger called DelGaudio “the Rouletista”—an identity that initially upset DelGaudio as he recounted the stranger’s lengthy allegory about a sailor who became a player in an odd game of Russian Roulette, always defying the odds as the Rouletista’s audience bet on whether the mysterious figure would survive each performance. These six windows, eerily echo the six chambers of a gun, a symbol highlighted by the repeated use of the sound of the puppet’s gun cocking as transitions. The other five windows each embody another facet of DelGaudio’s identity: a bottle on a pedestal, a wolf’s mouth containing a deck of cards, a gold brick in a window, a shelf full of letters, and a set of scales. As the illusions ranged from the mystifying to the deeply personal, the windows provided a framework for DelGaudio to link each new story to the larger arc of sharing different aspects of his identity.

Oz’s cutting together of multiple performances demonstrates how DelGaudio adapted the illusions [End Page 575] to the unique identities selected by different audience members. During the climax, for example, DelGaudio named every audience member’s selection from the wall of identities, an impressive feat on its own, made even more powerful by watching audience members’ emotional responses to hearing DelGaudio correctly call them by the identity card they chose. Because the streaming version allows Hulu viewers to experience strategic montages of different performances strung together, it is clear that DelGaudio allowed audience identity choices to make the magic fresh for each of the 522 different incarnations of the piece.

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The Wall of Identity Cards in...


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pp. 575-576
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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