Now, and at the Hour
nytheatre.com review by Danny Bowes
February 28, 2009
Occasionally, when a critic needs to calm down a bit, he/she will describe a particularly talented performer as a "magician." Christian Cagigal actually is a magician, which would make that description a touch redundant, were it not an apt way to describe his virtuosic performance in his one-man show Now, and at the Hour, currently playing at the Red Room as part of the FRIGID Festival.
The show is equal parts magic show and autobiographical monologue, with Cagigal telling first the story of how his father came back from Vietnam a schizophrenic, and then how his father led him to discover magic. Some of his father's influence was his eccentricity—for instance, asking young Christian "What do you think about clairvoyance? how about time travel?"—but a much greater influence, sadly, were his father's frequent violent episodes, during which, as Cagigal says, "I would have to stay out of his way." This led to a great deal of time spent in his room perfecting card tricks and such.
Gradually, it becomes clear that the tricks performed have everything to do with the monologues, as each trick in some way deals with memory or clairvoyance, or turning back the clock. And the tricks truly are spectacular. Cagigal's skill will have skeptics nodding approvingly at his seamless execution, and the credulous convinced that he is, in fact, psychic (his mind-reading tricks are so well-done they're a bit unsettling).
To catalogue Cagigal's act would be to take a great deal of the mystery out of the performance, which is the most entertaining thing about the evening. Being a moderately cynical person with a great deal of interest in—and a bit of knowledge about—the way in which deception is employed for theatrical effect, I was very pleasantly surprised to see a show where I had absolutely no idea how Cagigal was doing what he was doing. Watching a mind-reading act, my default assumption is that the mind-reader somehow has some prior knowledge to work with. This assumption completely dissolved when my companion was selected as a volunteer for one such trick, and Cagigal promptly—and accurately—guessed the initials of the person she had been thinking of, about whom she'd said nothing.
Where Cagigal the magician is masterful, Cagigal the actor is no less so. The monologues are performed with much less flair and levity than the magic; appropriately, considering the harrowing content. When performing magic, he is quick, witty, charming, larger than life, and when telling the story of a sad, withdrawn boy practicing card tricks and writing in his journal in the park because he's scared to go home, Cagigal becomes much smaller, quieter, and melancholy. It is as if—apropos of a repeating theme throughout the show—he travels back in time to become that little boy again. The effect is dramatically powerful and emotionally devastating.
In spite of all this, the show is by no means a downer. The dazzling magic Cagigal performs, and its derivation from his needing something to keep the horrors of his childhood at bay, end up leaving the audience not necessarily believing in magic, but believing in the magic of the imagination. This is the writer-performer's goal, and he reaches it with style, dignity, and true artistry. Now, and at the Hour is a unique and genuine theatrical experience that should not be missed.