Here’s a thing to know about me. I do not believe in magic, much like I do not believe in ghosts, astrology or sentient aliens. And yet…I cannot look away. When a new Unsolved Mysteries or UFO theory drops, I need to immediately read all about it, castigating myself for even caring (Classic Cancer!) and hedging every page turn with an unsolicited “I know this is all hooey but…”
Oh, and just so you know, I feel exactly the same way about self-help/self-actualization. (I dunno…maybe I’m more receptive to aliens.)
And so, it was with both skepticism and a healthy dose of “let’s see what all the fuss is about” that I sat down to watch In & Of Itself, magician Derek DelGaudio’s performance art cum magic show cum identity treatise currently streaming on Hulu. A live show, filmed over the course of many nights (presumably to show there were no audience plants), the footage comes from the theatrical staging, which ran in New York from 2016 to 2018, and both the IRL and Hulu versions were directed by Frank Oz, the puppeteer and filmmaker best known for voicing Miss Piggy.
The central thesis is that we all have an identity that we’re playing at—and an internal struggle to use that identity for good or evil (what DelGaudio calls the dog and the wolf). When audience members enter, they choose an identifying card off a wall—“I am a teacher,” “I am an immigrant,” “I am a failure,”—and this identity comes to mark them for the rest of the evening, and goes into the crafting of In & Of Itself’s most blow-your-mind moment. Then, what unfolds is a one-man-show that is constantly vacillating between folkloric story-telling, personal narrative and traditional/untraditional magic show: DelGaudio makes a golden brick disappear from the stage, and reappear at a random intersection in Manhattan, but he also shows how he uses sleight of hand to stack a deck and make it seem like he is pulling four kings out of thin air. This, he explains, as we fervently watch his hands to try to catch the con in action, is the crux of his own identity crisis. Is he delighting his audience, he wonders, or is he tricking them? (Dog, wolf, yada yada yada.)