Magic shows are inherently fun and exciting events. A man in a fancy cape and hat dances around a stage and makes all sorts of wondrous things happen, from pulling a rabbit out of a hat to reading an audience member’s mind. They are perhaps the quintessential form of entertainment: no hidden meaning, no fancy artistic musings, no real sort of depth, just pure fun and wonder. Magician Derek DelGaudio’s recent Hulu special, In and of Itself, flips this concept of a magic show on its head entirely.
In and of Itself is a filmed version of the one-man show DelGaudio performed over 500 times between 2016 and 2018 in both Los Angeles and New York. Directed by Frank Oz, In and of Itself cuts together clips from numerous different performances of the show. The unique format is quite apparent due to the presence of audience volunteers in the show, but perhaps makes the film even more of an experience than the in-person show ever was. In and of Itself is less of a magic show and more of a journey. It is a one man show that uses magic to explore what it means to be a human being. The show is meant to leave the viewer not with a big smile on their face, but with teary eyes and brains heavy with what they’ve just seen.
The show begins not with DelGaudio but with the audience, who are consistently present and participating in a unique way. The opening scene pictures the audience entering facing a wall in the theater lobby filled with cards saying I AM followed by a variety of descriptors. The descriptors are things such as “ I AM A TRAVELLER” or “I AM A TRENDSETTER” or “I AM A DREAM”. Every audience member chooses a card that best represents themselves to hold onto through the performance.
After this opening we are finally introduced to DelGaudio himself, a stout man with jet black hair wearing a sleek dark suit and purple tie. He has a soft yet friendly frown on his face and two large, slightly sad eyes peering both inside and outside the audience. He looks like a man in need of a good hug. The set behind him is fascinating: a smooth wooden wall containing six cozy little holes, all containing different objects, including a golden animatronic figure holding a pistol, a brick smashing through a window, a bottle of bourbon, a brass scale, a shelf of old books, and a wolf holding playing cards. Every object comes into play at some point in the show.
DelGaudio jumps straight into his show, telling a carefully crafted story about one of the objects, creating a mystical and thoughtful mood. He uses his magic throughout these stories to accentuate them and leave us in a perpetual state of amazement.
DelGaudio calls up several different audience volunteers during the performance in incredibly creative ways. First of these is an introduction to a certain Mr. Yesterday and a picking of a Mr. Tomorrow from the audience. DelGaudio introduces Mr. (or Ms.) Yesterday and explains that they are in fact an audience member who had been kicked out of the show the day before and are back to finish the show today. They walk up on stage and hand him a large leather book, which he then explains has been passed to each “Mr./Ms. Tomorrow” in the course of the show and each have written an entry in it specific to their person and identity. We are gifted a quick glimpse into the book and see how much work and artistic talent was poured into it by all of the Mr. Yesterday’s of the past 500 or so performances – and it is pretty amazing. A new Mr. Tomorrow is then chosen from the audience, given the book, and kicked out.
This sort of thought-provoking delve into random people’s personas happens many more times throughout the show and, in the end, helps the viewer reflect on themselves and their own persona. There is a particularly jaw-dropping trick that he performs at the end that caused many of the audience members to start crying with emotion.
I strongly encourage that you go to Hulu and begin watching the show. You will be both entertained as well as come away with an entirely different understanding of what a magic show can be.