Though I’m not a big magic aficionado, I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Gutenplan’s
hour of Extraordinary Deceptions–A Magical Holiday Extravaganza, now playing at
the Powerhouse in Santa Monica.

One thing I learned from Gutenplan’s show is that magic is not the same as illusion. 
You won’t see a tiger appear from nowhere, and Gutenplan is not going to escape
from a sealed box. The closest Gutenplan gets to illusion is sawing an audience
member in half at the end of his show, and that’s played more for laughs than for
gasps of disbelief.

Gutenplan’s brand of magic is of the classic kind, mostly card tricks with a bit of mind
reading thrown in. In fact, the Carnegie-Mellon theater major turned magician
explained in a post performance Q&A that he often turns to 100+ year old magic
texts for his tricks, though several of them are Michael Gutenplan originals.

The one he’s perhaps proudest of, and one I still can’t figure out is this.  An audience
member (who happened to my guest at the show) comes on stage and picks a
card from a deck and signs it with his/her first name. Somehow or other, this card
ends up in a factory sealed bottle of Fiji brand drinking water, which the audience
member gets to take home with him/her. I held that bottle in my hands.  It was
factory sealed, and unless Gutenplan was somehow able to open a bottle of water,
insert the card without folding it, and then seal it in such a way that it appeared
never to have been opened before, I can’t figure out how on earth he did it!

And you know what? I really don’t care. I decided that to thoroughly enjoy a
magic show, it’s best to just let yourself become a kid again and simply oooh and
aaah your way through the show.  Think too much and you only spoil the “magic.”

Gutenplan, a personable redhead with excellent stage presence, is first and
foremost an entertainer. His hour of magic is about having fun, whether it means
showering the audience with confetti, or pulling a rubber chicken from (supposedly)
the insides of a woman he’s just sawn through with a buzzsaw.  There’s no phony
sense of self-importance about the man.  He’s having a great time up there, and his
enthusiasm is infectious.

Don’t be surprised if you get invited to assist in one of Gutenplan’s tricks.  You might
be asked to think of a card, any card, and then find that the very card you were
thinking of has been before your eyes (face down) on stage since before the show
started, in three sizes, small, medium, and large.   I myself was asked to pick a word
from an old paperback novel, to just think the word as hard as possible, and lo and
behold, he knew exactly which word I’d chosen. I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical
explanation for it, but if you know how he did it, don’t tell me.  I prefer to keep the
sense of wonder I felt when he showed me the piece of paper on which he had
written the word I’d picked in bright red ink. (It was “successes.”)

At just about sixty minutes in length, Extraordinary Deceptions is very kid friendly.  
Children as well as adults become audience participants, and love every minute of
it.  Even the 3ish-year-old in the front row was enraptured by Gutenplan’s tricks; not
a peep out of him, not a fidget. It’s also a great way to revert for an hour to the
wonderment of childhood. And at an hour, the show still leaves you time to make
an appearance at a holiday party with a great conversation starter: “You won’t
believe how this seven of spades ended up in this factory sealed bottle of drinking

The Powerhouse Theatre, 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica.

–Steven Stanley
December 15, 2007
Photos: Julia Mazzeo

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