While most popular entertainments appear and dissolve as quickly as the cultural moments which spawn them, there is one whose fascination never seems to wane: the magic show. Whether centered around a complex series of card tricks or the seeming disappearance of the Statue of Liberty, the magic show is a continuing seducer of audiences young and old, all caught in wonder at events that are neither logical nor explicable. Try as we might to understand the machinations that result in that wonder, we remain in the thrall of the master magician, the seeming wizard who is able to thrill and confound us with ease and infinite calm. That calm, of course, masks an incredible ability to control a complex series of variables, a dizzying set of minute details. Nothing can be left to chance, lest the planned illusion deflate into the evident and obvious. But if that illusion is successful, if the audience is transported into a state of wonder by the magician’s art, the absolute power and control of that magician is confirmed, and celebrated.
But what happens when the magician steps off stage, into a world where randomness reigns, where everything, even the most intimate of relationships, can veer into areas that are unplanned and unpredictable? How can someone whose success is defined by that control, and whose ego may depend on it, face its loss? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Andrew Hinderaker’s fascinating new work, The Magic Play. Developed through both the Goodman’s Playwrights Unit and our annual New Stages Festival, Andrew’s play is both an endlessly entertaining magic show (with illusions created by the astonishingly gifted actor/magician Brett Schneider, who plays the central role, as well as master magic designer Jim Steinmeyer) and an investigation of our appetite for that magic, our need to believe in the unbelievable. But beyond our responses to The Magician’s work, Andrew delves into the yearnings of The Magician himself, an artist whose increasing quest for mastery of illusion on stage threatens to destroy the offstage relationships for which he longs. Although the questions it asks may be timeless, The Magic Play explores the metaphorical world of magic and illusion with unique insight and contemporary humanity, pitting our own thirst for and endless fascination with The Magician’s creations against the inevitable intrusion of uncontrollable, messy reality.
The Magic Play is one of a number of new works that we are producing in our 2016/2017 Season—an “Essential” season that explores universal questions of identity, reality and the necessity and power of illusion in unconventional, evocative and provocative ways. It is, I think, a season of uncommon variety in form and approach, one which stretches the bounds of how the art of the theater can explore timeless issues in surprising ways. It is a collection of accomplished theatrical works of which I am enormously proud—and one which I hope that you will find as provocative, seductive, elusive and satisfying as the astonishing illusions and poetic truths of Andrew Hinderaker’s The Magic Play.