Derek DelGaudio’s new solo show at the Geffen Playhouse’s black-box theater is a lot different from other one-man ventures. For one thing, there’s magic. And unlike the impulse to overshare that weighs down so many other autobiographical efforts, DelGaudio cloaks his personal storytelling in mythological allusions and tall-tale imagery, casting a penumbra of ambiguity around his truthy-sounding accounts.
The show could benefit from more forthrightness, actually, as well as more magic, which is where the concept falters. At 65 minutes (and ticket prices in excess of $100), In & Of Itself, whose name evokes a certain Inception-like circularity, leaves you just kind of expecting … more.
DelGaudio is an Academy of Magical Arts Award–winning magician, his bio says, returning to the Geffen after a lucrative run in 2012 of Nothing to Hide, a show conceived with his then-partner Helder Guimarães and directed by the inimitable Neil Patrick Harris. Frank Oz directs this incarnation, with original music composed by Mark Mothersbaugh.
The uncredited set design incorporates a plane of wooden planks with evocative dioramas tucked into alcoves. Those tableaux gradually figure into DelGaudio’s presentation, punctuated with moody lighting by Adam Blumenthal.
During the course of the evening, DelGaudio talks briefly about his mom, about the point in childhood that shifted the prism of his identity and, the story suggests, set him on his professional path toward concealment and dissimulation. It’s the most affecting part of the show and, from a theatrical standpoint, the moment that most closely hews to DelGaudio’s themes of perception and selfhood.
But there’s a fair bit of literal and symbolic misdirection as well, of extended buildups that don’t seem to lead anywhere or pay off, including a plodding few minutes with a brick that made me wonder if something had secretly gone awry. All told, there are some half-dozen illusions that, while impressive, don’t withstand the-walk-to-the-car scrutiny.
The final coup isn’t a trick at all, though it had audience members gasping — and perhaps that is DelGaudio’s point. He seems less preoccupied with brute-force bedazzlement than with challenging onlookers to probe their own interiority. That’s not necessarily too much to ask, but for an experience billed as both magic show and night of revelation, it comes up a little short on either end.
Geffen Playhouse, Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood; through June 26. (310) 208-5454, geffenplayhouse.org