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Theater | STAGE REVIEW

They're Conjuring Up Some Fun

Family entertainment is no illusion at the new Magicopolis, though unintended drama punctuates opening weekend.

October 01, 1998|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Entering Magicopolis, the new magic club in Santa Monica, one is struck by its postindustrial ambience. Big windows off the main 4th Street entrance expose the lobby and cafe area to the view of interested passers-by. Concrete and chrome contribute to the high-tech urban atmosphere. The whole facility seems oddly unfinished.

Magicopolis is a spanking new venue, and perhaps some design elements aren't yet in place. And surely, veteran magician Steve Spill, the driving force behind Magicopolis, should be applauded for creating a new venue for an underserved craft.

Still, the fluorescent glare of this big, cold space hardly seems appropriate to the ancient practice of magic and illusion. Fortunately, the magic-themed stained-glass windows that formerly graced Merlin McFly's on Main Street are stunning accents, pockets of warmth in an otherwise monochromatic expanse.

Magicopolis contains two theaters. The smaller, the Hocus Pocus Room, features a rotating bill of close-up magicians. "Nothing's Impossible," the inaugural production in the Abracadabra Theatre, the main performance space, features two magic acts in an entertaining but rough-edged evening that seems under-rehearsed.

Not that the magicians on the bill--Bob Sheets and Nicholas Night--don't go through their individual paces smoothly. It's the intervals between bits--the shuffling back and forth from the wings onto the stage--that seem cumbersome. Microphone problems were also typical, and the sound system was pitched to an ear-splitting level--opening-weekend kinks that can easily be straightened during the run.

Abetted by his lithe wife/assistant Kinga, Night specializes in ethereal effects appropriate to all ages. Night's signature illusion, in which he spray-paints a beautiful woman onto a canvas, then magically transforms the canvas into the real thing, never fails to enchant.

Sheets is an intrepid guy who performs the most death-defying illusion of the evening--inviting all the kids in the audience to come onstage with him, an endeavor more perilous than Houdini's water escape.

The avuncular Sheets, a skillful sleight-of-hand artist, handles the vicissitudes of live theater with panache--and vicissitudes abounded at this particular performance. It wasn't bad enough that Sheets had to contend with the constant interruptions of a 4-year-old heckler, whose parents apparently felt their child's cutesy antics were well worth the price of admission. At one point, a very lethal blade Sheets was using in a card trick snagged on the curtain and flipped into the audience, thereby almost violating magic's prime imperative--never actually impale someone, especially if they're not on your payroll. But hey, that's what openings are about, that's live performance, and that's magic.

BE THERE

"Nothing's Impossible," Magicopolis, 1418 4th St., Santa Monica. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m; Fridays-Saturdays, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Ends Nov. 1. $20. (310) 451-2241. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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