nytheatre.com review by Nathaniel Kressen
August 19, 2012
Magic Trick, a three-character psychological drama by Mariah MacCarthy, starts off strong with an inventive premise and well-drawn characters, but ultimately fizzles out in the second act due to a shortage of plot.
On the surface, Bana and Eric seem like a fairly standard and happy young couple, except for two things – Bana is in a wheelchair due to partial paralysis, and they’ve decided to invite a burlesque dancer home with them for the night. Clara, the dancer they have in mind, at first accepts their proposition but without warning changes her mind. Later that night, Bana collects her things and moves out of their shared apartment. Through a non-linear story structure, it is revealed that Bana has a separate history with Clara that overlaps with a significant portion of her two year relationship with Eric. Meanwhile, in the present, Eric pursues Clara in a feverish attempt to track down Bana, only to engage in his own affair with her.
In their post-coital scene together (one of the strongest in the production), it becomes apparent that both Eric and Clara are drawn to Bana’s resolute spirit in the face of her disability. MacCarthy depicts with stunning clarity how each unconsciously hopes that aligning themselves with Bana’s strength will fill a void within themselves. The difference between them lies in whether the void manifests itself as a constructive or destructive influence in their lives.
MacCarthy hits her stride in moments such as these, providing remarkable depictions of disability as it affects the disabled and their loved ones in contemporary America. In the second act however, she seems to dwell on the relationship complications from the first act rather than building upon them to carve out new ground. And, without a distinctive climax to the show, the non-linear structure ends up feeling like a distraction rather than an embodiment of the content.
Diana Oh as Bana, Nic Grelli as Eric, and Kim Gainer as Clara give dynamic and nuanced performances, especially thriving when the script’s dialogue leans toward the confrontational. Especially in the first act, it seems that the characters are perpetually pushing each other’s buttons to get a desired reaction. Director Christina Roussos weaves some softer moments into the mix to great effect, notably in the scene depicting how Bana and Clara first met.
Magic Trick runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, which in its current form could likely be shortened by an hour or so. However, I can’t help feeling that MacCarthy introduces issues in the play that are less than fully explored but could lend a real urgency to the piece. For instance, when Bana herself decides to try burlesque, she receives a largely positive response. However, what if the crowd were anything less than receptive to her disability? What if she lost control in one or both of her romantic entanglements, rather than perpetually maintaining the upper hand? What could it mean for Bana to take the biggest leap of her life, only to find herself rejected and without a home? The playwright has such a finely tuned ear for dialogue and characterization, a renewed focus on conflict and plot trajectory could bring a substantial resonance to her work.