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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Vichinsky

In & of Itself: Review

Updated: May 1, 2023

Two years ago I was tasked to watch my nieces. After a few snacks and a bowl of ice cream they had fallen asleep. Because of this, I did what any sane person would do and searched my streaming services for something to watch.

I came across this Hulu special that looked, at surface level, like a magic show. I have always been entertained and even amazed by Magic performances (specifically when I was a kid) and so I turned it on expecting a quick end.

Ten minutes passed, thirty, an hour, and finally the end.

I realized I was in tears, and I was smiling.

Then, I had to explain to my seven year-old-niece why I was crying - she had come to use the bathroom and heard someone holding in a cry (I am now Uncle Sad). Nevertheless, when the curtain closed, and the credits rolled, I was left with the challenge that Derek Delgaudio posed: who are you?

After I watched, I had a hard time suggesting it to people without sounding ridiculous.

"It's uh- a magic show, that's introspective, and lyrically told, done 500-something times in a theater"

More importantly, I wanted people to have the same experience I did. I wanted them to go into this expecting silly little tricks and smiles, and leave changed with a new outlook on identity and the experiences we claim shape us. So I didn't, in order to share this effect with someone.

Yet, here I am two years later, I feel the need to highlight one of the most beautiful, poignant, films I have ever seen in my life.

The show starts with a story. The Roulettista. A man, down on his luck plays a game of Russian roulette. One bullet out of six chambers, you spin the chamber, put it to your head, and pull the trigger. If you win, to put in Delgaudios own words, "all your problems were solved and if you lost... well, all your problems were solved". So he plays, and wins, and comes back, adding another bullet day after day and continues to win - even when the chamber was full an act of nature saves him. It wasn't until a third party man, a man from out of town that had never heard the legend, breaks into his (The Roulettista's) house one night. The intruder points a gun at the man and kills him - without knowing his story, or caring. This starts the basis of the six chambers Delgaudio "unlocks" throughout the show.

It is important to start with the effect of magic on his production. Magic, in the traditional use has always made me feel inauthenticly surprised. Yes, it was impressive and captured my awe, but never did I leave a show and felt closer to the performer after. We are meant to feel, when we watch magic, deceived and confused by the unknown. "Everything is not what it seems" as the old saying goes. This is exactly what Delgaudio uses it for. An open metaphor. Each story revolves around a trick. One that he discusses in relation to a defining "identity". So the audience gets the connection between that of a man trying to hide behind a bunch of tricks - to show one thing, to know another - and that of a man who is trying to debunk this dichotomy of hiding behind these things - that have helped him survive and be successful. At the same time, he comes to realize, through the performance of these tricks, reliving these moments tied to his illusion (that have defined him) that he too is an illusion that he can mold for himself. This is a gift he grants the audience at the end of the show too.

A beautiful part of this production is the interconnected webs between shows. These are specifically connected by the story book of "real and imagined experiences". However, this is successfully done through the film of cut scenes of a series a shows throughout the series of shows. This accomplishes a few things for the show. One, it works well with the symbol of the book, the viewer of the film version of the theater is getting the same experience as the people in the auditorium. Viewers of the film see how each "Mr. / Mrs. Tomorrow" take on the responsibility of continuing his story, which takes it out of context of the ultimate untold rule of the theater - that they are the only audience viewing the show. These cut scenes and book accomplish this in the same respect - they are part of the message of connectedness- night after night audiences were a part of Delgaudio's real and imagine experiences. Further, it shows - on the theme of identity - that others have left their fingerprint - theirselves and their identities - engraved in the show leaving it feel even more of an authentic experience for the audiences and Delgaudio. Part of this is the unobvious "magic" of the show. The responsibility granted to a random viewer, to continue the show for the next group.

Ultimately, what sets this show and film apart is Delgaudio's story telling. From the beginning story of the Roulettista, Delgaudio weaves in how his "chambers" have built his identity and how ultimately he is responsible for how he sees himself - whether or not he is defined by these chambers or whether or not he decides to leave them behind. At the end, it is revealed that we are all defined by chambers, by "I Am" statements, that we try to prove to ourselves and people around us - and how amazingly difficult it is to be seen by these identities. This returns back to the opening dialogue of the Roulettista being defined by these six chambers and getting killed despite his legacy. He may have convinced the world, but what happens to that when you meet the one person who is unaware of what you built?

The vulnerability that he displays in his shows tied with the surreal elements allow the finale to feel as if it is not the end of the play but another chapter in the book of real and imagined experiences. The audience, and the viewer, are forced to think about their six chambers both through their identity tag they pick before the show, and through the interactive story telling he uses with the audience throughout the performance - reading letters from long lost friends, and writing the rest of the performances story from that night. The audience and the viewer are just as much of the process of uncovering their imagined identity as Delgaudio. Yet, the result - breathtakingly - is Delgaudio seeing who they (the audience and himself) want to be defined as.

And so, with tears streaming from my face, I question again: who am I? Would I, in the face of more than 500 shows, be able to face the six chambers that define who I think I am? How I want to be seen? I feel the hesitancy every time I ask these question because I feel like the inevitable answer would be no - I couldn't do that alone. Delgaudio's performance is a reassurance that we are everything and nothing like we want to be and that that's okay, because who we are is okay.

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