A Hugo Boss velvet blazer and a toy Mr. Potato Head may be an incomprehensible combination to some, but Eric Walton is able to pull it off.
The writer and star of Esoterica, a show featuring magic, philosophy and inexplicable card tricks, Walton not only demonstrates the skill and talent of the trade, he pokes fun at it.
Walton has worked in theater for many years and has been studying magic for the past seven, gaining most of his knowledge from instructional DVDs and books. He decided to pursue magic when he saw a man perform a card trick that, he said, blew him away.
“It was the best card trick I had ever seen – I hadn’t seen many at that point,” he said. “He seemed to possess such power – to be able to manipulate the cards in such a way – make it seem like I was witnessing something that was really impossible. I knew it was more about than just manipulating the deck of cards – it was about manipulating my perception – I had to know how it was done and learn how to do it myself.”
After perfecting his skills, Walton implemented them into his show, where he not only performs these tricks, but questions them as well. He maintains a satirical air, mocking his audience as he dazzles them. Throughout the show, he references literature and philosophy, as well as raising the questions of perception vs. reality and fate vs. free will.
“There are many layers to what I’m doing up there,” Walton said. “There’s a definitely a very kind of satirical aspect to my personality as a person. That definitely comes through in the character that I portray onstage. As much as I’m performing within the genre of magic, I’m also kind of making fun of it in a way.”
When cultivating his character, Walton said, he wanted to maintain a balance of seriousness and spoof. He wanted to be in on the joke that he himself was performing.
“With very few exceptions, once people leave the theatre and have a chance to think about things, they’re not going to believe that I have actually taken away their free will or am able to manipulate the outcome of seemingly random events or read their minds or anything like that,” he said. “The majority of thinking people aren’t going to walk away with that impression, even though that’s the impression I want them to have in the theatre. But once they leave, their rational minds take over.”
He said there is a part of his character who recognizes that when his audience leaves, many of them will leave the show behind them. He described it as “subverting the superciliousness of the character,” who is an overeducated man, and taking the edge off of it.
“I wanted to give him a sense of humor and let the audience know that he is in on the joke.”
Part of this joke involves a very intense séance, performed with an “exquisitely crafted and dreadfully expensive séance box,” and summoning the spirits, asking them to appear, “if they have nothing better to do.” The proof that the spirits have arrived is if they take a toy Mr. Potato Head and place it inside a large martini glass, both located inside of the aforementioned box. The apparent magic of the séance, combined with the absurdity of the toy that is used in the séance, makes for an amusing skit.
“It just seemed like the right one,” Walton said of his choice of Mr. Potato Head. “The idea with the séance is to set it up as manifestation from the spirit realm. And I thought how can I make fun of that, because so much of that – psychics on television – who claim to contact the dead – it’s so preposterous what they’re doing – and their methods, once you’re familiar with them, are so transparent and diabolical. I thought, “how can I poke fun at the genre?” I thought what better way than to bring in a Mr. Potato Head – something like an apple or an orange wouldn’t have the comic punch.”
The reception to his show, Walton said, has been mainly positive. He has been approached by audience members who think that he has actual magic powers, and he has had to correct them. “I guess that means that either A) I’m doing an adequate job of making people believe that what I’m doing or B) they are extremely gullible,” he said.
He believes that the show appeals to different people for different reasons.
“For me, it’s about that power or perception of power. For others, they just want to take a moment to complete suspend disbelief and to believe that what they’re seeing which they know in their rational minds to be completely impossible, is actually happening,” he said. “For a lot of people, magic represents possibility. For others, it represents a nice sort of diversion. A challenge to their intellect…that impulse and that fascination with things that we don’t quite understand – beyond the sort of grasp of pure reason and things that aren’t necessarily possible by the intellect.”
Walton’s show differs greatly from many in New York. Its daring addresses of philosophy, its in-show references to literature, and its challenge to the audience to look beyond the surface and think about what is actually happening onstage is rare. But hopefully, Walton said, it will have an influence.
“I want people to look at these kind of philosophical ideas that I’m addressing in a way that they hadn’t before,” he said. “I’m fighting the good fight – trying to elevate the art of theatre and to bring philosophy and philosophical thinking to a theatergoing audience.”