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The Card Guy

Ricky Jay and “Assistants” Mystify Market Theater

By Bence Olveczky

staff writer

Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants

The Market Theater

Through November 24, 2001

There is something magical about seeing a performer at the top of his trade up close and personal, sharing his skills with you. An athlete, a dancer, a painter, or even a car mechanic can strike us with awe -- as can, of course, a magician. Ricky Jay, one of the world’s most famous sleight-of-hand artists, is in town with his one-man show for a month-long run at the newly inaugurated Market Theatre in Harvard Square, and his performance is an astounding showcase of skill and artistry.

Directed by the famous playwright and film director David Mamet, Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants is more than just a magic show, it’s at once a comedy night, a poetry reading, and piece of theater. At the center of the experience is Ricky Jay’s card tricks, some of which he explains, most of which he doesn’t.

A deck of cards in his hands certainly go a long way, but to fill the evening he intermingles his trickeries with anecdotes and stories about men who have gone before him, showing us their favorite numbers. He does it with so much affection and wry humor that it’s hard not to smile all the way through the two hour show.

He reads poetry, all linked to his magic trade, with empathy and sophistication, giving the evening an unlikely literary quality. “Every profession is a conspiracy against laity,” he quotes George Bernard Shaw, and those words have never rung so true. It’s especially grueling for someone who has lost a lot of money at the card table to see the ease with which he deals whatever cards he wants.

His skillful handling of the cards is not restricted to tricks. He also does some rather athletic maneuvers, throwing his faithful assistants (read: cards) into a watermelon, and boomeranging them into the air, then cutting them in half on their way back with a pair of giant scissors. It’s the kind of light entertainment that we so sorely need in troubled times like these, and even though Ricky Jay does not allow children (under 17) into the audience, it’s exactly the childlike spirit he evokes in his audience that makes the production work so well.

The show, which has also been shown on the HBO network, requires intimacy, and the redecorated dining room that is the Market Theatre is a very fitting venue. But the seats are not reserved, and the sightlines for some of the back rows are compromised, so it pays to show up early.

The show runs until the 24th of November and tickets are $50, with student rush tickets selling for $10 one hour prior to each performance. The Theater is located in Harvard Square above the Grendel’s Restaurant.