Michael Gutenplan’s amiable, low-key display of prestidigitation could hardly be dubbed an “Extravaganza,” and the only nod to the holidays is a medley of pre-recorded Christmas tunes that precede the perf. What does live up to the show’s title is Gutenplan’s deceptive sleight-of-hand mastery as he performs up-close-and-personal with various members of the audience. Under the loose guidance of helmer Ryan Dixon, Gutenplan projects a casual, almost bumbling persona as he works his way through a number of traditional magic-trick formats.
Maneuvering around a small stage strewn with myriad decks of cards and other paraphernalia, Gutenplan appears to lack confidence, as if his routines are not completely polished. They are indeed. Though youthful in appearance, he is an old-fashioned closeup magician. Gutenplan exhibits an impressive dexterity with cards and money, complimented by impressive feats of mind reading and extrasensory prediction.
The low-energy concept of “Extraordinary Deceptions,” however, does not quite have the legs for a proscenium stage. It is much more suited to a magician’s parlor, where the audience is closer to the action.
Every routine requires an assist from an audience member. Gutenplan works through a number of variations on the standard “guess the correct playing card” and marked bill routines. At one point, the correct bill is found within a sliced lemon. His most impressive card turn occurs when he asks an audience member to tear off the end of a card and keep it. After a few “red herring” ploys, the rest of the card is recovered from within a sealed envelope stored in a small box recovered from under another audience member’s seat.
His mind-reading ploys include guessing the correct word from a randomly chosen paragraph from a randomly chosen book page, selected by audience volunteers.
The least successful routines involved unsatisfactory machinations with a paint gun and a saw. Following much bravado in explaining how he was going to catch a paint ball pellet in his teeth from a fired gun, Gutenplan’s clumsily telegraphed resolution to the routine undercut its dramatic effect.