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Albie Selznick uses 'Smoke and Mirrors' to deal with childhood loss

The actor-magician says his show, which draws heavily from his childhood struggles to cope with his father's death by using magic, is a story about overcoming fear.

February 05, 2013|By Wesley Lowery
  • Albie Selznick performs his autobiographical show "Smoke and Mirrors" at The Road Theater in North Hollywood.
Albie Selznick performs his autobiographical show "Smoke and Mirrors"… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Albie Selznick's career has been a long, tiring and, at times depressing trip through comedy, music and acting.

But Selznick hopes his story — or at least the version of it he performs each weekend — is a hero's journey.

The 54-year-old actor-magician takes the small, intimate stage at the Road Theatre Co. in North Hollywood each weekend to perform a show that draws heavily from this childhood struggles to cope with his father's death by using magic.

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"When I was a kid my friends used to ask me why I wanted to be a magician," Selznick says at the beginning of his show, "Smoke and Mirrors."

"I used to tell them: 'To bring back the dead.'"

From a pajama-clad boy with a comical lisp practicing tricks in his bedroom at night to a traveling magician hoping to score with the female patrons at his New Zealand shows, Selznick spares no intimacy or insecurity in his 90-minute magic show. He says his story is about overcoming fear.

Reviewing the show in the Los Angeles Times, Philip Brandes wrote: "What most distinguishes 'Smoke and Mirrors' is the personal connection that Selznick explores between his life and his art.... Selznick poignantly underscores his early attraction to magic as a skill that could be learned in solitude."

Years of persistence and practice paid off when, as a young adult, Selznick earned membership in the Magic Castle, the storied magicians' nightclub in Hollywood.

He went on to co-found "The Mums," a popular circus act in the '80s and '90s that performed as an opening act for Devo and Duran Duran and earned him the admiration of David Bowie, who implemented one of Selznick's suggestions — entering the stage from the rafters — on one of his tours.

After leaving the troupe, Selznick spent years in television acting, amassing a lengthy resume that includes a recurring role on the '90s sitcom "Suddenly Susan" as well as appearances on dozens of other programs, such as "Grey's Anatomy" and "Dexter."

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But Selznick knew he'd return to the art of illusion, and crafted his semi-autobiographical show to incorporate the skills he learned on the sets of TV shows.

"You get more out of the acting. When you're doing magic you're just performing something you've practiced; it's sort of like a trained seal," Selznick says. "But acting, you actually get something out of it. It's much more gratifying for the performer."

The performance has a narrative that more closely resembles a play than a birthday party magic show, and it becomes a walk through what he describes as both the darkest and most defining years of his life.

"I wanted to create a show about why someone would become a magician," he said. "As a child, magic was a way for me to escape how sad life was."

Even if his illusions will never resurrect his father, who died when he was 9, Selznick has long taken his craft seriously. In one early scene, a young Selznick fires his magic partner and best friend, for breaking the magician's code: revealing the secret to a trick.

Although he now admits to acting as a self-righteous preteen, the code is one by which Selznick still abides.

"I've got to know how you did that last one," a middle-aged woman wearing a dark blue sweater exclaims as she approaches Selznick following the performance.

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For his finale, Selznick climbs into a suspended cage while it is filled with items representing his fears — fake spiders, snakes, bombs — lights flashing and the box spinning.

When the curtain concealing the inside of the cage drops, the magician is gone, only to later reappear behind the mask of Trix, the human-sized rabbit who served as Selznick's boyhood toy and confidant.

The emotional ending to a magical show, Selznick says, is his coming of age.

But the magic lies in the mystery.

"You know I can't unveil how it's done," he says dismissively, with a chuckle. "The only people I've ever told how I do a trick are people who I think are going to sleep with me."

That jest earned a round of laughs from the woman, her husband and the couple they attended the show with.

"Plus," Selznick added with a smirk. "I'm married now. So, there's no chance."

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'Smoke and Mirrors'

Where: The Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: Friday-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Ends March 17.

Contact: (800) 595-4849 or http://www.roadtheatre.org

wlowery@latimes.com

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