nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
May 18, 2009
I am always wary of magicians, because I don't believe in magic. But Jeff Grow, master of conjuring, doesn't call himself a magician. He doesn't call himself an illusionist or a sleight-of-hand performer either. He sees himself as a con man. This won me over immediately. After all, he says, his machinations first require gaining the confidence of his mark—in this case, the audience at the DR2 Theatre—then striking awe into them with the work of nimble hands and fast fingers. Grow is an appealing technician who brings a boyish charm to a group willing to be fooled. What's needed is a little polish to bring the presentation to a professional level.
During the hour performance, Grow levitates a cigarette, cons ten dollars from an audience member, makes whole a ripped newspaper, and engages in ostensible ESP (remarkably believable) with members of the audience. Grow is adept at slowing down his motions, conning us into thinking we will see how he does the trick as he explains it. There are audible "ahs" when we don't, and again he's got us in the palm of his hand. Aside from the smooth illusions, I most enjoyed Grow's explanations of how a con works, painting familiar New York street scenes and populating them with cons he has met and been conned by. This is the best of his patter, and it proves sharp and illuminating.
For a show of illusion, I assume the performer has a certain skill set. What I come for is the showmanship. For the most part, I got it. Grow could sharpen the focus of his routine if he eliminated the fumbling, jokey talk that leaves his audience wondering where he's going with his thoughts. This allows his audience to race ahead of him, and in one instance someone in the audience beat him to a punch line. This type of show relies almost as much on the precision of its pacing as it does on the precision of technique, and Grow should not relinquish any of his authority to the audience. During the portions where there is audience participation, he takes too long to choose his victims, leaving us to wonder if the show will go on if no one volunteers. It falls on Grow to figure out a way to keep this part moving and our attention on him. With only occasional falters, this was a lively, entertaining evening.