Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ricky Jay: American Treasure

My wife and I got out of the house the other night to go see Ricky Jay perform his Rogue's Gallery show at the Geffen Playhouse. Directed by David Mamet (in whose films we were first introduced to the incredible Mr. Jay), the stage show is Jay's largely improvised audio-visual tour through artifacts in his personal collection of playbills, fliers, posters, and photos related to unusual and esoteric entertainment in the U.S. and Europe. Magicians play a large role, but so do figures like Harry Kahne, the early 20th century "multiple mental marvel", and Mathias Buchinger, the 17th and 18th century polymath and performer who was nearly limbless and only 29 inches tall.

Each artifact leads Jay into an anecdote, a magic trick, a joke, an historical yarn, a video clip, or all of the above. I submit he is a national treasure and should receive some corresponding honor, because he is keeping alive a tradition of entertainment that is as potent now as it was a hundred years ago or more. It cannot be duplicated with CGI or other elaborate technical effects. Special effects would spoil the magic, literally.

It's live, mind-boggling, witty, and literary entertainment. Movies have sapped people's attention for this kind of performance, which is an ironic bookend for my week in which I also saw and was dazzled by Avatar. I guess I'm a walking contradiction. But I don't claim James Cameron as a national treasure. That's the difference.

A bit of celebrity gossip: I saw Teller attending the show. And I saw him speak. And I heard the slightest muffled tone when his lips moved, but he was about six feet away from me. Side note: I had a theory for many, many years that Teller was one of the Residents. He plays bass on a Penn & Teller video from the 80s that sounds exactly like the bass sound on The Commercial Album; he doesn't speak as part of his act; and I know Penn Jillette knows The Residents (or a least boasts that he does). They're in the same milieu. Alas, I shared my theory with a friend "in the know" who lauded the novelty of my theory, but also disabused me of it. Perhaps Teller sat in on Residents recordings, but he was no Resident, if you catch my drift.

And, now, feast your eyes and mind on the art of Ricky Jay:

And the book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women is as great as he makes it sound (on Arsenio Hall!):

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