Rocco the magician walks among us like an ordinary man. He offers you a friendly smile and nods towards the shelled peanuts in his hand, encouraging you to eat some of them. He walks through the audience, an amiable man. He is not here to take anything from you—not your dignity, your intelligence, or anything else. Nor is he demanding anything of you, your loyalty or even admiration. After all, you have just met. He offers you some peanuts. Simple. Peanuts. You liked those peanuts? Fine. Here’s something else.
Imagine you are watching, as the famous French conjurer Robert-Houdin put it, an actor playing the part of a great magician. He approaches the audience. You are nervous because you have been insulted by one too many performers who call themselves magicians. You are mistrustful because you are tired of the demands of the magicians’ ego for applause for their pointless “tricks.”
If you are watching Rocco Silano however, you feel differently. He is an artist. You will applaud not just because he has flawless technique—more of that later—but because he makes the kinds of decisions that other entertainers don’t think about.
We are in a little backroom of a bar, The West End in NYC. If a magician were to unleash all of his or her power here it would be too much. After all, we are just here nursing our drinks looking for a good time. We don’t want to be transported to Asia to ride the back of a Siberian Tiger. Let’s see what fun we can have here.
So Rocco and his audience eat peanuts. Then he pushes the remaining peanuts into his empty hand and when he opens his hand a brief second later, in it are peanuts in the shell. As if time had been reversed. It’s a startling moment. And now he offers you the peanuts in the shell. Then the remaining peanuts go back in the hand and it can’t be, but it is: a Snickers bar. He gives it away. Then a pack of gum and he breaks open the pack and offers the sticks. Then the sticks turn into more packs like the parable of the loaves. You don’t like the green-wrapper kind, poof, here are the yellow kind. It’s something small, but he does it for us because we’re friends. Soon pretzels appear from nowhere, large pretzels, small pretzels, pretzel sticks, pretzel rings.
I am sitting three feet away from him. I, like most of the others here who are versed in things magical, know exactly what must be happening. And I am still mesmerized. Misdirection works whether we know about it or not when performed by a master.
His empty hands are the horn of plenty. Here’s a lollipop for you. Now an orange for you. A miniature bottle of vodka for the gentleman. A tube of lipstick for the lady. He gets what so many performers can’t seem to understand. It’s about giving to the audience and that’s what he literally does. Look, if you had the power, wouldn’t you do the same for your acquaintances? You wouldn’t rain down jewelry and money—that would make their lives too complicated and they would be too beholden to you; look what that did to Elvis. But, hey, a couple of drinks and eats for my friends when we got together—that’s exactly what I would do.
We’ve established our relationship, there’s nothing to worry about, now we can watch his stronger magic.There are some beautiful moments where he tears up a newspaper piece by piece and then restores it. And for the magicians in the audience he does a beautiful coda. He now takes the restored paper and tears that again into little pieces. The little pieces transform into a lit pipe between Rocco’s lips.
He closes, finally ready to show us a “trick.” A card is chosen, signed. He cannot find it. He pulls cards out of the deck, but they are all wrong, not the card. He throws the deck away and then plucks cards out of the air, one after another from nowhere. But they too are not correct. The venerable Magician in Trouble plot. How will he escape? He puffs on what is now a cigarette and then smiles. He removes the cigarette from his mouth. Behind his lips, is a folded card. There can be no doubt now. The card is removed from his mouth and opened up. It is the signed card. He has just given us the gift of the impossible.