Derek DelGaudio's In & of Itself

Derek DelGaudio's In & of Itself ★★★½

First: I was late to "In & Of Itself," only watching it after a month of rapturous Twitter raves, but nobody had truly spoiled for me what Derek DelGuadio's "thing" is and I appreciate that I went in cold. So stop reading.

Second: I didn't look away from my TV for the entire 90-minute running time of "In & Of Itself." Never checked email or my phone or Twitter. So it obviously worked, or else I was afraid that if I looked away, I'd miss a reaction shot of somebody famous in the audience.

But here's where I go from enthusiastically appreciate to... Skeptical.

Basically, and this is only as insulting or critical as you choose to take it, "In & Of Itself" is like if John Hughes wrote a special for the late, great Ricky Jay.

"What we found out is that each of of us is a brain... and an athlete... and a basket case... and a princess... and a criminal... Now was your card the seven of spades?"

Or, put a different way, the level of profundity in "In & Of Itself" is being graded on a hell of a curve. It's definitely more personal and revealing than when David Copperfield made the Pyramids disappear, but... How much more profound?

Or, put a different way, we're all viewing "In & Of Itself" as a magic show with more than your usual amount of audience crying. But what if we instead viewed it as a tent preacher sermon with more than your usual amount of card tricks? Or as a John Edwards cold-reading special with a few card tricks thrown in?

Because I'm A Cynic — that would be the piece of paper I would choose before the show and Derek DelGaudio would have no trouble identifying me accordingly because I'd be the guy with the raised eyebrow — I simply have caution when too many people are getting teary about something that is not really that deep, because it speaks to manipulation and capitalizing on vulnerability and I'm fairly confident that an audience at a magic show, or what is billed as a magic show, is an audience predisposed to credulity and that what DelGaudio does here is DIFFERENT from snake-handling or speaking in tongues, but it's not THAT MUCH DIFFERENT. But it definitely feels more dangerous to me that leaving an audience slack-jawed because you cut a woman in half or picked a lock underwater. Basically, once the audience is in the palm of your hand, you can unload whatever you want on them and whether it's the snarky skepticism of Penn & Teller or the simplistic meditations on identity from "In & Of Itself," that's a great amount of power that that particular artist holds.

But if you took the stuff that DelGaudio is spewing here and you gave it to the late, great Spalding Gray as a monologue and Spalding Gray didn't make a gold brick disappear, but instead read the couple stories from his binder while accompanied with ominous music, you'd feel like it was the dullest Spalding Gray monologue ever, unless you saw "It's a Slippery Slope."

DelGaudio gets away with this because he conveys this almost eerie Everyman reluctance to wield the power he possesses. This is also why if you ever saw him at your poker table in Las Vegas, you would be well-served to RUN. And that's insidious as well. A performer with an iota of slickness would raise your hackles to this put-on sincerity, but with DelGaudio, you buy it. It's like he's reluctant to fleece these Hollywood rubes, almost pained by it, but darned if he isn't going to do it anyway. And emotional fleecing is still fleecing, but I hope Bill Gates checked his wallet after he left the show.

ALL credit to DelGaudio and Frank Oz for a presentation and combination of elements that's surely ingenious in its own way and certain parts of it struck me as having significance, like the whole thing with the book and the person getting kicked out of the show and having to come up with the own ending and all of that. I dug that.

But out-of-context, if you saw an audience laughing and crying and having those glazed expressions stemming from the frickin' parable of the blind men and the elephant, you'd assume they were five minutes from drinking poisoned fruit drink, not that they'd just seen a sellout theatrical experience.

And yet I guess I'm saying I liked it.