Obstructed View - Episode 1 - Magic Trick

Pictured: Chet Siegel (left) and Ethan Hova

Robyne: Hello, I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and I’m Wesley,

Robyne: and this is Obstructed View. 

Wesley: Today we’ll be discussing Magic Trick by Mariah MacCarthy, presented by Caps Lock Theatre with Jack Sharkey as Executive producer.

Robyne: And a few notes before we begin, in this conversation we’ll be discussing some adult themes and sexual content, so just a heads up on that if you’re sensitive to that material, and second, I do know Mariah personally, we’ve worked together in the past. And always spoilers will abound but we will do our best to warn you when they are coming.

Wesley: This is the second production of Magic Trick, previously produced at HERE Arts Center. Magic Trick was done at Theatre Row in their Studio Theater. Unfortunately, we saw it on its closing weekend, so you’ll have to catch a future production.

Robyne: Magic Trick is a play in two that runs about two and a half hours, it follows the shifting romantic complexities between its three characters: Bana, Eric, and Clara.  Starting at scene eight and then continuing to jump through its chronology, the play offers a disjointed portrait of the at times beautiful but rather toxic relationships these three people share.

Wesley: The story centers primarily around Bana, a feisty partially paralyzed woman, who falls in love with Eric, a trust fund baby of thirty-seven. Spoilers. One day while out Bana meets Clara, a fantastic burlesque performer, with whom she falls in love.  Afraid to leave Eric because of a previous outburst when she tried to move out months earlier, as well as some legitimate romantic feeling, she feels trapped and has Clara help her move out while Eric is asleep. 

Robyn: Hence the Magic Trick Title. I’d like to start out talking about design.

Chet Siegel (left), Kim Gainer, and Ethan Hova

Wesley: All right, so for design in this production, we have, Tim McMath doing scenic design, Lighting by Lois Catanzaro, Costumes Allison Dawe, and sound design by Genarro Marletta.

Robyne: I really think that the world the designers created meshed together very well.

Wesley: I agree entirely.

Robyne: Starting with the moment we stepped into the space, it felt like a late 90s – early 2000s, kind of rundown, dive bar, drag, burlesque performance space. That really –

Wesley: Well the thing is we’re in the top floor of a midtown theater complex. The space could be very, it could be very sterile but I think that they did a good job of making me feel like I actually went to the basement of a bar in Bushwick or something.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: You know like there’s a lot of texture to that world. I actually wasn’t quite sure what was, at first I wasn’t sure what was already in the space when they got there.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: To a certain extent it feels as thought they could have done very little in order to transform the space. I couldn’t tell because it all seemed to fit so naturally in that theater for me.

Robyne: Yeah, I totally agree.

Wesley: Especially the painting on the walls, they painted the word “Magic” in paint, and for me, I don’t know, it’s one of those things that I never quite see in theaters like that where they actually go to that extent where they will paint the walls to bring you into a special space for that production.

Robyne: Absolutely. Which the lighting really helped. It, it focused primarily on the blues, and pinks, and purples that I find prevalent in that kind of sexy kitten, burlesque-y, drag-y kind of beautiful grim.

Wesley: Right, and it didn’t feel like high-level LED lights, or something like that, this felt like worn gels that have been used time and time again, and especially the, ugh, I love when they actually put the dressing room mirror

Robyne: The dressing room practical lights were great.

Wesley: I loved that. We get a better window, it’s more voyeuristic.

Robyne: The lighting really helped the scenic shifts, in breaking the magical delusion that the burlesque numbers that were performed created, into that stark reality of the characters lives. There were a couple of those shifts where we went from these warm, fuzzy, fun, almost alcoholic lights into this stark, cold, were back stage this is where reality happens – theres a moment where they’re sitting backstage in the second act and rather than having the, the burlesque nudity, it was the two women, sitting, removing the tape residue off of their tits.

Wesley: Yeah. Well it has a sort of Chicago vibe to it. It’s escapism into another reality where you are the star of the world.

Robyne: Yeah, and I felt that this sound design just accentuated that world for me with the use of that, oh god, turn-of-the-century, trip-hop, ugh, Cake, and Morcheeba, and Poe, and Portishead, all of these alternative, influential- that kind of music that’s warm and sexy but dark and dangerous, and there’s damage there. And that’s, that’s what this piece is for me. With those elements, combined with – I said combined but I think almost in counter to the costumes.

Chet Siegel (left) and Kim Gainer

Wesley: Mhmm

Robyne: In a way that accentuated the costumes even more. Because Eric is kind of bland in his dress, it shows that he-

Wesley: Apathetic.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: He doesn’t care what he looks like. For me, cause Eric he is a trust fund baby, he is a thirty-seven year-old trust-fund baby.

Robyne: Mhmm

Wesley: A lot of somebody’s self-worth comes from interacting with Society, giving something to the society that the society then, at times, pays you back for. He hasn’t had to do that; things come to him. And so, everything sort of wilts. And part of that is his apathy to how he looks and how he dressed.

Yeah. Which is the complete opposite of Clara. Where EVERYTHING about her appearance is designed. I loved the glitz and glitter and sometimes painful campiness in the burlesque in the burlesque numbers because they’re so ridiculous and gimmicky and that’s beautiful because that’s exactly what burlesque is to me. It’s this sexy striping while wearing a robot costume, and it’s great. Like, there has to be this sense of humor and play and fun but also here’s a little skin. And so the art of the burlesque is just heighten by the artistry of these designs.

Wesley: One of the things I really enjoyed about the burlesque costuming is how homemade they feel.

Robyne: Mhmm.

Wesley: They don’t feel as though she went to a high level store – it didn’t feel as if she got this high-level costume designer. I had this image in my mind of Clara going to her house, picking up fabrics and sewing them herself, or tearing apart new clothes in order to get the designs that she wants.

Robyne: In one of the final scenes, she was hand-stitching underwear for a bit, and I loved that, I loved that level of detail in this world.

Wesley: I agree. I think it shows, also, that this is a person fighting for something. Now, whether or not that is a good thing she is fighting for, or whether it’s helping her is another conversation.

Robyne: Right.

Wesley: But she is definitely somebody who is going to be pushing for something she wants.

Robyne: Yeah. I do feel though that- I love the design, and the only way to make it more authentic would be to do it in location.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: And I know that we discussed this right after the show, but I think that this isn’t a play, I think this is a movie.

Wesley: I absolutely agree. I think there are a lot of things that lend this to film than it does to theatre. For me, this production has such a sense of New York City, but it’s a passive sense. And so like while other shows might say ‘oh, now we’re in battery park city’ look over there, and there’s a that, look over there, there’s a that, this really, there’s just once or twice where they might reference where they are in the city and I would like very much in the framing of the world, which can come from film. A film in a frame, you see where we are. We’re in Bed-Stuy, we’re in the middle of Bed-Stuy, or we’re in the Upper West Side near Lincoln Center. And, you don’t have to point it out in the text, it’s just there. And the people that surround them, the various delusions walking through this city that they inhabit, a lot of it would go well towards film I think.

Robyne: Yeah, and a lot of the extras and background work would contextualize everything we’re seeing in a beautiful way. I was never sure if the trio was the center of attention, and were standing in the middle of a club, having this conversation, or if they were almost at the exit door waiting to kidnap Clara to discuss their future plans. And so, that kind of “hey were on the balcony overlooking the stage and there is a burlesque performance happening” and you see a bunch of people interacting, and this is very removed and quite, it would really contextualize what is happening.

Wesley: No, I mean, I agree entirely. I think also, for me, it just comes down to there is only so much a designer can do to recreate a world as opposed to putting it on location. And also, there’s a variety of burlesque shows they’d be going to, a variety of performances, a variety of posters, and you can get that weathered sense that comes from that grunge world, that still exists at times in New York City.

Robyne: And something that I loved about this production, as you would point out as obvious, is the diversity of the cast.

Wesley: yeah, the diversity here- if you would have told me what this play was about before I saw it; I would have been very nervous. I would be like, “two and a half hours, for a rom-com about a girl in a wheel chair, her abusive lover, and a sociopathic burlesque performer? This sounds dreadful.” ON the surface this sort of casting can feel, at time, self-congratulatory; there was none of that here. This felt very authentic. It was more New York for it. And once again, since it was so New York, I wanted to see the city. And I got the sense of that one burlesque theater, but to see his studio apartment would have been important for me. They were very limited, because it was twenty scenes. With a lot of shifting actions.

Robyne: And a very small venue.

Wesley: A very small venue. But I think that with changing the set so often, it, at time, felt like a necessary evil.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And this story deserves better than that, these characters, this script, deserves better than necessary evils like that.

Robyne: On of the things I loved, I know you didn’t really care for, is the use of the framed placards in the back. When you title a scene, it’s almost Brechtian, of like, ‘this is what you’re about to see, get ready’ with that tease, but it also lended itself to the idea that it ‘s magic, it just felt very showman-y.

Wesley: No I enjoyed the thing itself, I like the vaudevillian sense of “Scene Eight” or ugh “I was attacked by a Bear.” You know? And you’re like, “What when is that coming out?” My issue just went to, I thought the placards themselves, and the way they were shifted, was showingly amateurish compared to things like lighting and sound. The idea of having them didn’t seem half baked, but the things themselves were just kind of distractingly handmade.  

Robyne: Clunky?

Wesley: Yeah, it was clunky for me.

Robyne: Ugh, see I liked that. I liked having that clunky, man made feel to it. I liked the, the lack of illusion; it’s the same as having the Stage Kitten, Gina Doherty, coming in and taking off the clothes that were stripped in the burlesque numbers and resetting the stage. It wasn’t just glorifying a crew person, and having them in costume and in the world. She actually interacted with the world and was totally necessary for the production and just flavored it so well.

Wesley: Now, my, my response to that is simply, I didn’t think that the integration of burlesque into the play, meaning into this love triangle was brought to its full conclusion. I didn’t feel as though that synthesis was fully constructed. Not every scene, has the burlesque heart or that burlesque pulse, and while I don’t need it for every scene, their burlesque was sprinkled in intermittedly. There were probably, what would you say, about four or five burlesque performances done?

Robyne: Mhmm.

Wesley: With choreography by Sidney Erik Wright, and some of them I think really understood where the characters were in their abilities. There was a bit of a fun catharsis with Eric’s burlesque, ugh surprise Boy-lesque number. I was not entirely taken with Clara’s performances …

Robyne: Specifically with Clara I was unsure of what her skill level was supposed to be. So starting with Bana, I could really see skill develop, and I got a very clear sense of when she started and what she’d learned. But it seemed with Eric that he was pretty bad at it and it was wonderful and there was that wonderful moment of him removing the pants and how awkward that is.

Wesley: Yeah.

Robyne: But there’s a sense that Bana overtook Clara in skill, and I wasn’t sure if that was meant to be a commentary on Clara isn’t good and she’s aware that she’s not fantastic, and she was using Bana, literally using the girl in the wheelchair as a gimmick and then Bana is actually naturally gifted at this or if it-

Wesley: See, well the thing is, I buy Bana being naturally gifted. When you meet her, her self-confidence is through the roof; she has damage but she is very articulate and she is very direct and she doesn’t shurk away from thinking that she is beautiful or worthy of being seen on stage. As she says, ‘I have a hot ass, I wish more people could see it.’

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Clara, they’re supposed to like be obsessed with her. Eric and Bana, when they first see her in the bar, become obsessed with her. Maybe it was an off night, but I didn’t find anything in the choreography that came off as dazzling. Nor did I think there was much joy in the execution compared to the more text driven acting scenes. That, I think that there was more of a pulse with the text moments than there ever was with the dance with her.  And during all of the duets, my mind was on Bana, which I think that might be part of the point. It might be, that there is this new girl, who quickly outshines her, and then she is left in the dust. But I did, I think that final swan, I think, there is a final, there is a final dance to this piece, that is sort of in this magic realm, that I think was really well done, and it came off as choreography that Bana developed. I’m not sure how you felt about it, but I think that that particular scene, starting off with her first lesson, going to the duet, and then her solo, that’s a great arc. And I think the choreography really spoke well of that.

Robyne: Yeah and for me the story we’re watching is Bana’s discovery of herself not in or with another person, but as a performer, and that is how she relates to herself. I don’t necessarily feel that her self-love as reflected in the text was worthy of that number. I agree, I loved the number, I loved watching her grow as a performer culminating in that number performance, was wonderful, I loved that. I just don’t know if it was earned. I also, the ending left me a little dismayed as to the other two characters, I wasn’t sure if the focus was on just Bana or if we were supposed to be following these three people.

Wesley: Right, for me, Eric changed a bit. Clara got left in the dust, I don’t know what came of her. A part of me thinks that burlesque is a small world, are they going to have to meet each other again? That’s always what I thought while I was watching this, are they going to cross paths, because burlesque isn’t the biggest world. But I think it wasn’t entirely earned for me either but I was able to really get, no actually, it was, I did think that that quiet moment with her and Eric transitioned very well into that final apotheosis. I wish it was a quicker transition to it, I remember it being a little bit clunky getting into that world, but I think it was ultimately successful in the end.

Robyne: I totally agree, I just don’t know if that moment of the two of them at the end was earned.

Wesley: That moment, okay.

Robyne: I felt that we were left on this almost The Graduate-esque ‘sitting in the back of the bus well now what do we do’ whereas that rang really false to me for his person. There were lessons to be learned by the other two characters from their interactions with Bana that I don’t know if they learned and if they learned then they ignored at the end of the play.  I was just –

Wesley: So lets transition then to talking about this play in terms of it’s script and it’s structure. So the relationship between Eric and Bana. They take a lot of time to say they love each other, I do take that verbatim. Cause we do get that one scene.

Robyne: Where they slow dance.

Wesley: Right.

Robyne: There’s a gorgeous moment where instead of picking her up out of her chair and slow dancing with her while carrying her, Bana has a reaction to being lifted out and Eric sits down with her on his knees and they just sit and slow rock back and forth, and that is a gorgeous moment textually. In reference to the dialogue, it felt like that scene along with the very violent refusal of letting her leave scene-

Wesley: Yeah there is a scene in this play, where he takes her. She’s leaving, cause that’s what she does, yet he throws a book at her, picks her up, throws her on the bed, and makes her unable to leave. And he’s almost shocked I think by his actions. And I think this is talking about privilege, and somebody trying to unlearn their privilege, and somebody who’s just never had to fight for anything. That scene I feel is like a trump card over any discussion of love I saw throughout the rest of the play. That scene had such, vitality is almost too nice a word, it, it, it was so violent, so-

Robyne: Virile.

Wesley: Yeah, that, the slow dance scene almost feels like the wrong day. That the slow dancing scene feels like the off day for him.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: I wish that for me it was about oh, he needs to go through this journey where he doesn’t own her and he learns his self worth. Instead, all I could think was, ‘she needs to get out of there.’

Robyne: Yeah, I, especially with the time jumps that occur, I was never sure as to when things had happened and how much time had passed. And how you come to so easily forgive somebody for something along those lines-

Wesley: And we never got that. We never got any scene in which we see love following that moment. Whether it is sex, whether it is romance. I can’t think of a single scene, following that, maybe, maybe it was them together in the bar waiting for Clara, but is that when the long con began?

Robyne: Yes.

Wesley: So, if she spent that long trying to get away, I don’t see the point in rooting for them to become friends-

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: Which I did, cause I like him. I think he’s a great character. I think it’s important to have a character like that, and I like how they work with one another because, also, we get a lot of conversations where they call each other on each others bullshit, and they establish that in like scene two.

Robyne: Yeah, I love them together.

Wesley: Yeah, they have great Chemistry.

So both of the actors, Chet Siegel, and Ethan Hova, they have good - at first it was stifled and awkward, and I was not looking forward to the rest of the production; but in the style of the writing they had this great back and forth, these interactions, this chemistry, that’s wonderful. And is completely in a separate world from these three moments, that are just so starkly different that they overrode everything else in the script. And then there’s that third scene.

Wesley:  Yeah, so, Clara- at first when she meets Bana, is very loving and nurturing but then after spiriting her away in the night, Eric goes to her saying ‘do you know what happened to my girlfriend?’ and she’s like ‘We just met.” And he goes ‘well do you want to come over with me?’ Which was a fun scene. That was a fun scene. But then it turns into this sort of vertigo situation, where she’s ‘treat me like you treat her’ and it goes very dark very fast. And it’s never really referenced again besides Eric going ‘You need to get away from her.’ But then she starts to use Bana, and then she wants Bana to be her girlfriend. And it just comes off as more weird art Hitchcock than the rest of the play.

Robyne: Yeah, I got a sense from the jumping chronology of the play and the dialogue that there was a film noir aspect to it that didn’t really land.

Wesley: No

Robyne: And there was a lot of things that-

Wesley: There was a residue of different plays on this, I think. And the romance, the moments, and the chemistry between Eric and Bana, as well as the release in Bana finds in Clara’s burlesque and that self-fulfillment, that’s the conversation I think this play is best at. The rest of it feels like distraction and rather than making the characters feel more nuanced I feel like they were evading moralization. I feel as though this was evading me having an opinion on them. And Bana is a very complex character. She’s very self certain, she’s very feisty, and at the same time she’s very insecure. And she is very flighty. A wonderful millennial heroine.

Robyne: And I both love and hate that we don’t know anything actual about her past. We find that she’s a liar, and we find that she- it’s revealed only once what may have had happened. But we get no texture for that. And I like that mystery, but at the same time I’d like to know a little more who she is as a person. Cause the character is so well written and Chet’s portrayal of her is so wonderful.

Wesley: I loved it, I loved her. Yeah, no, I, I really thought I wasn’t going to be able to stand her. I thought she was going to be this spunky girl in a lifetime movie. Chet brought a lot of humor and strength and brought those insecurities out in wonderful ways.  I felt as though her articulate sense of who she was, the relationships she was in, and the reading of the people around her was earned, and it almost never is I find in a lot of these shows. And I think that her performance- the, I mean the only draw back was that at two and a half hours, it became a little expected at the end when she shot back with something.  But I was never once bored throughout this play. Which is saying something for an intimate, two and a half hour romance.

Robyne: Which is not, in my opinion, to say that the script isn’t a little too long, it could use some cutting like those scenes-

Wesley: There were roads you went down that weren’t entirely necessary. And at worst they were distracting from the things that this play does very well.

Robyne: Yeah, it could have been streamlined along a clearer sense of what story was being told.

Wesley: Exactly.

Robyne: And I just wasn’t particularly sure at certain moments what that story was. But it was told very well and it wasn’t painful to go through.

Wesley: And I really quickly want to say that the direction by Christina Roussos was excellent because I can’t imagine the work it took with these actors to get them into the spaces almost immediately with one after the other. Because a lot of them are used to contrast. We have a moment of violence or angst followed by a moment of bliss and quiet love.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And I enjoyed the abstract staging that happened. There was a moment that they were doing a dance and she sees Eric in the audience and she looks at him as she’s doing her burlesque performance. I liked that and I think that Christina went a very far way in bringing a bigger world to that small space.

Robyne: absolutely.

Wesley: All in all I think this play has more than just a decent foundation, I think it’s excellent in a lot of ways. There are just still roads to go down for it’s final iteration.

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: Things need to be carved out and perhaps a couple of things put on. And really understanding what medium this world belongs in.

Robyne: Yeah. And I’m so excited to see it’s next iteration.

Wesley: Oh, yeah, I’m so excited.

Robyne: I loved that this production doesn’t fall into the trap of, ‘oh we’ve put a woman in a wheelchair’ -

Wesley: Right

Robyne: ‘And then we are going to have a multiethnic cast of three.’ These are all beautiful people who could be anything and they just happen to be the people they are.

Wesley: And at the times when Bana gets indigent about the way people treat her in her wheelchair, more often than not it was her trying to pick a fight. Like, it didn’t feel like, ‘now audience, this is how you treat these people.’ It was, ‘this is a part of this character.’ There wasn’t a single piece of dialogue that wasn’t a part of that character.

Robyne: Yeah. And I love Mariah’s dialogue. I’ve seen a number of her pieces. She just has a knack for Human characters Speaking to each other with a very clear sense of relationship.

Wesley: And also, very quickly, I want to say, I really loved the character of Eric. Because so often the love interest is, you get the audience to say ‘we want her to be with him’ or ‘ we don’t want her to be with him’ make him a slice of toast we feel that way about, and that’s it. But the neuroses of Eric were legitimized; the difficulties that he was going through we’re all very grounded. And I really think that there was a lot of foundation for their chemistry.

Robyne: Yeah.

Wesley: And you’ve talked a lot about Mariah’s writing as long as I’ve known you. You, you’ve actually claimed that one the readings you went to is one of the best things you’ve seen in New York, but I honestly didn’t know what to expect of it. And I’m very pleasantly surprised by somebody who really fits into understanding where her generation stands in the world.

Robyne: Absolutely. And I would be totally remiss if I did not mention the fight choreography by Jesse, I’m not even going to try to pronounce your last name, I apologize. Jesse G. (Jesse Geguzis)

Wesley: Yeah, I mean, most of the time fight choreography comes off as, ‘look at what we studied, we studied fight choreography.’ When I saw there was a fight choreographer at the end I was like, ‘what part of that was fight choreography?’

Robyne: Yeah and the moments of violence, there were two, were gorgeous and not once did I have the eye of being afraid for the performer, it was in the moment terrifying to watch the interaction between characters.

Wesley: Yeah, no, it was, it felt very organic, it felt very in the moment, and it didn’t feel choreographed.

Robyne: Yeah. Wesley, any other thoughts?

Wesley: No I think that’s it for me.

Robyne: Then I think that’s a wrap.

Wesley: We hope you enjoy the podcast and that you will share your thoughts with us.

Robyne: As always, you can find us and join in on the conversation on our website Obstructed-view.com, on facebook at facebook.com/ObstructedViewPodcast, on twitter @Obstructed_View, on soundcloud at soundcloud.com/obstructedview, on tumblr obstructedviewpodcast.tumblr.com, and on instagram at instagram.com/theobstructedviewpodcast.

Wesley: Special Thanks today goes out Ari Edelson, Alyssa Jenette, and Julian Fleisher for your love and support.

Robyne: This is Robyne,

Wesley: And Wesley,

Robyne: And remember,

Wesley: Your song was just passing for love.


[Not mentioned Kimberly (Kim) Gainer as Clara]