Review: “The Magic Chamber” plays it charmingly close to the vest in intimate style

Matt Felton performs not in the theater, but in living rooms across Atlanta. (Photo by Adam Fristoe)
Matt Felton performs not in the theater, but in living rooms across Atlanta. (Photo by Adam Fristoe)

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Have you ever watched card tricks on a Jumbotron video screen hung above a concert stage? I certainly hope not, but it happened to me when I attended the touring magic show The Illusionists, which made a recent stop at the Fox Theatre. Bigger, better, louder, faster seemed to be the magicians’ creed, and with dancers, outrageous make-up, costumes, smoke machines, dazzling lighting, a throbbing rock score and said screen above the stage, it was a show so big, so over-the-top that one ended up feeling, paradoxically, a million miles away from any magic.

In total contrast, the style of the new show The Magic Chamber from Out of Hand Theater could easily be described as “slow magic.” The public performances run at various private homes around Atlanta through November 19, and the magician himself is no brash showman, but the approachable, unpretentious and soft-spoken Matt Felten.

There’s an appealing coziness to the show, which consists primarily of card tricks and other small-scale sleights of hand and mind-reading tricks (even in the most distant seat in someone’s living room, there’s no need for a video screen to get a satisfactory view of the action).

Felten, an experienced Atlanta actor who often appears in muggle shows around town, utilizes stories and humor that don’t feel like dull filler or blustering hype, but are often nicely integrated into the tricks themselves. It’s tempting to call the show “magic for adults,” but labeling anything “for adults” makes it sound dirty and there’s certainly nothing inappropriate for kids in the show; it’s just that the pacing and Felten’s way of addressing the audience have a grown-up sense of sophistication, even as the tricks themselves evoke a childlike sense of wonder and excitement.

The tricks are charming and delightful, but perhaps a little too quiet in the end. One doesn’t feel as though the natural laws of the universe have been bent in some jaw-dropping way, which is what one longs for. I also felt that the hour-long show was too short by a trick or two, and though the performance wisely avoids over-the-top flash, things still need to end with a bang.

Ticketed performances in private homes also present a problem in that they hover in a no man’s land between a typical venue and a private event for which the host has happened to hire entertainment: It’s not exactly one, it’s not exactly the other, but it carries with it some of the best and worst aspects of both worlds. Such performances are cozy, intimate and social, but they can also feel awkward and uncomfortably hemmed in. They lack ample parking and anonymity.

Still, when it comes to magic, too short and too intimate are better than the opposite problems, which so afflicted The Illusionists. If there are two types of magic show, The Magic Chamber is definitely recommended as the right room to be in.

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