The Magic Show: The Story of the Barefoot Angels
nytheatre.com review by Lucile Scott
May 26, 2009
Abigail Nesson Bengson takes the stage belting an upbeat gospel tune, calling one and all to a revival type meeting in The Magic Show: The Story of the Barefoot Angels, which she created and performs. And then with nary a prop she continues to fill the sparse set with engaging dynamism, her powerful, versatile singing voice, and six good-hearted characters who can't help but exude a sweet joy even as they encounter the tragedies of cataclysmic natural disasters and a subsequent insufficient government response.
Along the way her one-man (hus)band, Shaun McClain Bengson, perching in the corner, accompanies her on a guitar, accordion, and more as her characters sing songs ranging in genre from blues and gospel to Salvadorian hip-hop. The most impressive musical moment may come when the young Bengson sings a blues song in a raspy though lovely voice that she convincing and movingly attributes to an old Southern fix-it man character who sounds like he has spent life living hard.
While the stirring tunes ice off and create a cultural mood for the show, the bulk of the performance consists of text, in which the characters, residing in New Orleans, El Salvador, and New York, confront life and a certain amount of hardship and poverty before confronting the even greater hardship of sudden disaster, whether it be a hurricane, a volcano, or 9/11. Several of the characters, including a Harlem teenager with a penchant for Juicy Couture, a little boy suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, and a cocky, young Salvadorian gang member, are introduced with monologues before their connections to one another or any semblance of a plot is revealed. Bengson slowly weaves the considerable poetry of her language into the intertwining plot, which plays out like verses of a song instead of as a conventional narrative structure, snapping back and forth from city to city and character to character, and gracefully bringing us to the inevitable, disastrous climax and the effects on all.
At times I wished that her music served more to develop the poignant and even haunting plot instead of as a somewhat relevant aside, especially as the emotions mounted and the existence of the plot became clear. I also wondered if the plot involving 9/11 was altogether necessary to develop the themes in a show focusing more on natural disasters and imagery of water and floods and volcanoes. But I walked out feeling that I had indeed witnessed moments of magic in this beautiful and artful show.