In its review of The Expert at the Card Table, LA Theater Review identifies Magician and British Barrister Guy Holingworth as both “suave and debonair.”
We certainly do not disagree but wondered if the statement should be considered “news.” After all, it is well known that all intellectual property attorneys are by tradition always either suave or debonair; and a select few of us are both.
We read further into the expertly written essay and understood. The theater critic was using what us professional writers call, “an introduction” or, as we say around the professional writers’ clubhouse, “an intro.”
But we are quick to protest — probably because we were conceived during some beatnik protest in the late 1950s — that Guy Holingworth needs no introduction. Magicians and magic fans know him well from his writing and performing neat effects with ordinary cards.
Then we read further into the review and realized the introduction was primarily for those unfamiliar with Guy Holingworth. We calmed down, popped a Chocks and continued sounding out the words as quietly as possible lest we wake those around us in the Mystic Hollow Public Library.
Neil Patrick Harris directed Mr. Holingworth’s show based on 1902 classic The Expert at the Card Table. The critic then explains the rich history and intrigue surrounding the creation of S.W. Erdnase’s gift to future generations of knuckle-busting masochists and their ever-patient friends and family.
Again, we know about the book. It was our first magic book that we owned outright. (The tradition in the Hardy family was to give library books as gifts thus imposing both a benefit and burden on the recipient). We read that book from cover to where the front cover would have been if it was purchased from a bookstore. We got ours by dumpster diving for the bookstore’s remainders. Our actions violated copyright and public health laws.
In fact, we had the opportunity for uninterrupted study of the book during our three-month stay in the Mystic Hollow TB Sanitarium. While the doctors would not permit us to bring our disease-ridden copy into the clean facility, we were able to purchase an additional copy from a young man who was checking out as we were checking in. At the time, we assumed his hands were gnarled from the ravages of Consumption but it could have been repetitive stress injury from daily practice with Erdnase.
Again, we realized the critic was introducing the book to non-magicians. Absent some explanation, the show’s title would seem “different” and maybe “unique” or “interesting” but probably not “magical” or “card trick featuring.” The Expert at the Card Table could be a book on just about anything. A check of our library’s card catalog shows at least seven different titles including the words “Expert,” “Card” and “Table.” Only one of those books deals with magic.
And so we learned a lesson in our critical review of the critic’s review. One must know one’s audience. Facts and names that seem obvious to us may not be either to a lay-person or non-magician.
Of course, we would want to see the show even if the critic panned it. But he didn’t. He called the evening “a mesmerizing look into the world of cons and conjuring. Delivered with a gentle sophistication by the boyish Hollingworth, we are indeed shocked and amazed by his dexterous capabilities in the realm of card chicanery, an act that is bolstered by the amazing story behind the book.”
He does heave technical criticism towards the staging and sight lines.
“This setting may have been perfect for an intimate room in a stately home or The Magic Castle, but the black box at the Broad’s Edye Theatre has been configured with ghastly sight lines – the audience rarely sat still as they shifted to get a better view of the proceedings; there was far more attentiveness when the tricks were projected on screen.”
This critique is actually inverse praise. If the show was terrible and the performance lacked, the critic would not care that he could not see. Mr. Holingworth and Mr. Harris should take some solace in this truism.
The show has received very good reviews from Variety (“It’s a Pip!”), The Los Angeles Times (“The summer’s theatrical sleeper”), and The Goldstar Company (“Guy Hollingworth had us eating out of the palm of his very talented hands.”)
Check out the show’s page at the Broad’s Edye Theatre in Santa Monica here.
Review the show’s notes here.
Get your own copy of The Expert at the Card Table by S.W. Erdnase from Inside Magic’s Library here.