The Pendragons are more than familiar with David Copperfield. As magic's top gun, Copperfield is the guy who fills arenas, does TV specials and is known for splashy, sometimes schmaltzy and almost always amazing tricks.
Other illusionists routinely face performing in his shadow, including the Pendragons. But Jonathan and Charlotte, the former UC Irvine students turned husband-and-wife magic team, found more of the spotlight recently when they were named Best Illusionists in the International Magic Awards--over Copperfield and several other performers.
"We beat him!" Jonathan Pendragon said during a telephone interview from Las Vegas, where the couple were performing at the Aladdin hotel and casino. "I was excited, it's kind of amazing--sort of like David and Goliath or Jack and the Giant Killer.
"David (Copperfield) is visual and spectacular, but I think (the judges) were more interested in tradition. We like to keep it more straight, less sensational. The contest reflected, I think, more of a purist attitude."
The two-hour-long competition, with categories including entertainers of the year (won by Las Vegas regulars Siegfried and Roy), best close-up performer, comedy magician, escape artist and technical magician (Copperfield did win this one), is scheduled to air Monday at 8 p.m. on KTTV Channel 11. Winning routines, including the Pendragons' "Interlude" and "Metamorphosis," will be shown.
Although reluctant to describe the illusions specifically, Pendragon said that Charlotte "appears to come through my chest" in "Interlude," while "Metamorphosis" involves "a rapid escape."
Pendragon pointed out that both feats are typical of their approach, which involves a physical style utilizing his gymnastic and diving training (he's competed on the college level) and Charlotte's experience as a dancer, gymnast and body builder (she was runner-up in the 1982 Body Building Superbowl contest).
They avoid the gaudy costumes ("We hate rhinestones," he said) and the more traditional tuxedo garb ("It's too restrictive for the way we perform") favored by most magicians. Instead, they rely on scant, monotone outfits that allow movement and emphasize their physiques.
Agility and quickness are integral to the act, which features levitations, disappearances and escapes, a Pendragon trademark. He said they hold the record for an escape from a locked trunk popularized by Harry Houdini, who did it in seven seconds. Pendragon does it in three.
"There's drama in that because everyone is usually amazed when we accomplish it so soon. We combine our physical presence with an acting presence to create a style that adds to the illusions.
"Besides, the rapidity is not purely for the sake of speed . . . a real magician would not stall; he would simply wave his hand and the magic would happen. As an actor, I try to make my magic look as real as possible."
The Pendragons met in the late '70s while attending UCI, where Charlotte was studying dance, among other things, and Jonathan pursued drama. He was also performing solo in local and Los Angeles clubs as a magician, when not moonlighting as a Hollywood stuntman (he's doubled for Burgess Meredith and John Belushi, among others). Charlotte, too, was a double, having appeared on "Charlie's Angels" and "Quincy, M.E." They started dating, and eventually he asked her to take part in his act.
At first, they offered the basics, using "manipulation and other standard tricks" but soon turned to a more physical style to set them apart. He also wanted to make Charlotte more than a pretty assistant and began building a routine around their equal partnership.
They progressed rapidly. Although they haven't achieved the household fame of Copperfield and, before him, Doug Henning, the Pendragons are reasonably well-known among magic fans. Their work in Las Vegas, the acknowledged mecca for working magicians, the past few years and various appearances on television underscores that.
In talking about magic, Pendragon is apt to get a little philosophical, referring to its "preternatural" beauty and ability to be "intellectually puzzling." Artistry and sound technique add up to good magic, which comes down to "telling a story and tapping into the kid in us."
After a pause, he added that the best illusion "when performed expertly and with imagination can instill those lost feelings of youth and wonder that are rare and thrilling."
"The International Magic Awards," featuring the Pendragons, is scheduled to air Monday at 8 p.m. on KTTV Channel 11.