Remember magic tricks? People pulling nickels out of your ear, people reading your mind and even victims of the audience being sawed in half? Remember the awe and excitement of being in the audience of one of those shows? Remember raising your hand frantically, hoping that you will be asked to go onstage and help out with one of the tricks?
Take that excitement and add a bit of cynicism and you’ve got Esoterica, Eric Walton’s latest show playing at the DR2 Theatre. The two may be an odd combination, but with Walton’s skill, talent and silver-tongued speaking voice, he manages to pull it off.
Walton, the author and sole performer of the show, is a bald-headed, heavy-browed man with an intense look and even more intense voice. Decked out in a velvet pinstriped blazer, paisley-printed tie, this silky-smoothed speaker entertains the audience throughout his show with his own tricks and his own commentary. At times he mocks his talents, at other times he mocks the audience’s faith in them. He is self-deprecating and slightly malicious, calling himself a “pseudo-scientist” and inviting a member of the audience to participate in an “epistemological cakewalk.”
Demonstrating a variety of magical and card tricks throughout the night, Walton’s skills are surprising and at times thrilling. Some of his tricks are basic ones, some are original. He is able to guess which card the audience is holding without looking at it. He questions whether we as humans are led by destiny or free will and tests these theories through card experiments. He conducts a séance, using an “exquisitely crafted and dreadfully expensive spirit box” that he uses to summon the spirits who “have nothing better to do.”
Though his tricks are entertaining, it is Walton himself provides the true entertainment in the show. The achievement of somehow fitting a toy of Mr. Potato Head in a large martini glass is somewhat overshadowed by his own description and reaction to the trick.
There has been a rise of one-man shows lately in the theatre lately, with everything from Jay Johnson’s “Two and Only,” featuring a wooden doll named Bob and a puppet of a bird to Martin Short’s satire of one man shows. Neither show received rave reviews, and the question of whether one man can entertain an entire audience remains hovering in the talk of the trade. These shows are “biographical” (fictional, in Short’s case), based around their stories and their talents. Walton’s show, however, is not biographical in any way. He reveals nothing about his own life, but in his on-stage role, he captivates the audience.
Sitting in an armchair, sipping scotch, he comfortably chats with his audience, saying, “People often ask me how I became interested in the art of conjuring.” Pausing for another sip, he continues, “And I just ignore them.”
The tricks Walton performs are surprising. They are eye-catching. They are interesting. They make you think about how he did what he did. His performance does not necessarily make you believe in magic. Instead, you believe in his skill.
“Have a Tootsie Roll,” Walton offered a man who did not succeed in tricking him. “It will help mollify the pains of incredulity.”
This show does a better job than the Tootsie Roll. But by going to the show, you can get your own Tootsie Roll as well.