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THEATER REVIEW  CHARLES ISHERWOOD

‘Asi Wind’s Inner Circle’ Review:

A Man With All the Aces

The host of this minimalist off-Broadway magic show executes mystifying card tricks and mind games with disarming ease

 

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Asi Wind (center) PHOTO: HAL SCHULMAN

Broadly speaking, magic shows can be divided into those that rely on spectacle—think Harry Houdini and his great escapes, and maybe the cape-wearing guy who appears to chop a comely lass in half—or minimalism, the apparent mind-readers or card manipulators who work on a more intimate scale.

Although David Blaine, a magic maximalist if ever there was one, is among the presenters, “Asi Wind’s Inner Circle” falls squarely into the latter camp. (In contrast to Antonio Díaz’s exuberantly flashy “El Mago Pop,” which concluded a brief Broadway run Sunday.) Mr. Wind’s show, at the Judson Theatre in Greenwich Village, hosts an audience of just 100, and much of its allure relies on the friendly rapport the affable Mr. Wind establishes with his audience. The show has become an off-Broadway phenomenon, recently surpassing 300 performances and extended into next year after premiering last September.

An air of amiable inclusion is established as soon as you take your seats, when members of the staff hand everyone a playing card and ask that you write your name on the back side, putting an initial in two corners. Had I been warier, or more cynical, perhaps I might have examined the card to see whether it was marked by any distinction that might tip off Mr. Wind to its connection to, well, me. But I am quite sure that would have availed me little in my furrowed- brow attempts to discover just how Mr. Wind performed the remarkable feats that he does.

The cards are collected and become the primary, in fact the only, prop in the show—other than audience members. Mr. Wind enters and sits at a round table at which a dozen of those members are also arrayed (one pays extra for the up-close vantage, I gathered). The rest of us are seated in steeply raked rows that give everyone a clear view of the table, upon which occasionally a video is projected so we can see the details on the cards. The handsome backdrop suggests a miniature version of the vast proscenium at Radio City Music Hall.

Mr. Wind then proceeds to confound and dumbfound us all through various acts of prestidigitation. In one early bit, really an amuse-bouche, Mr. Wind offers—after much manic shuffling and cutting from the people at the table—the deck of cards collected from the audience to a table-mate who is then asked to pull out any single card. He (presto!) pulled out the card with his name and initials on it. More than once.

While he is busy befuddling us, Mr. Wind also spreads an easy charm around the room; a handsome fellow with a salt-and-pepper brush cut, clad in simple black T-shirt, jacket and slacks (no, I could not at any time catch him sliding a card up one of the sleeves of his blazer), he tells a potted version of his story—born in Israel, with a trace of an accent remaining, currently residing in Brooklyn—with a seasoning of self-deprecating humor. (No, Wind is not his original last name.) His warmth and inviting smile disarm any in the crowd who might be allergic to audience participation—although I didn’t detect any such allergies at the performance I caught, except my own. And even my aversion to becoming part of an act fell away by the show’s end, when I became a central player in the gobsmacking finale.

At least I got to stay in the theater. In one of the more impressive tricks, an audience member was asked to head out to Washington Square Park to accost a stranger and ask for a number, which then became the basis of an elaborate prank involving various other numbers and, well, presto again.

It is neither fair, interesting nor even possible to describe in detail the various tricks Mr. Wind performs; at a show like this, surprise feeds one’s sense of wonder, and a sense of wonder is what the audience comes for. It is a credit to Mr. Wind’s unfathomable gifts that while the show relies only on those cards and the participation of the audience members to work its magic, it nevertheless gathers momentum, as the revelations become more elaborate and mystifying.

Long before the show concluded, I gave up on my instinctive attempts to determine Mr. Wind’s methods—all the members of the audience could not, obviously, be “plants.” (Needless to say, I wasn’t.) In any case, the appeal of magic shows is surrendering our natural insistence on reason, and on trying to divine the methods behind the mad-making wonders, and instead to let the ineffable, the incredible, take hold of our imaginations. In this, the spectacle-free “Asi Wind’s Inner Circle” succeeds quite spectacularly.

—Mr. Isherwood is the Journal’s theater critic.

Appeared in the September 1, 2023, print edition as 'Asi Wind: A Man With All the Aces'.

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