Up close with the magic of Elephant Room

We talk with Louie Magic, Dennis Diamond, and Daryl Hannah, if that be their real names.

The Elephant Room isn’t really a play and it isn’t really a magic show. In fact, it’s a little hard to define. One of the show’s PR blurbs breathlessly promises that if you combine “the glory of a Styx reunion tour, with the transcendental power of a 200-year-old Zuni shaman and add a dash of trailer park ennui, you come close to describing the mystical pull of a trip to the Elephant Room.”

(l-r) Dennis Diamond, Louie Magic and Daryl Hannah (Photo: Scott Suchman)

That said, The Elephant Room definitely involves magic, conjuring, and the world of illusion, all shot through with the off-the-wall personalities of Louie Magic, Dennis Diamond, and Daryl Hannah. Three magicians with entirely different back stories and approaches, they’ve banded together to create an entertainment they hope will bring a world of wonder to their audiences.

To find out what this crazy-sounding stuff is all about, we recently met up with the madcap trio backstage at Arena Stage, booking our get-together just after one of their rehearsals—and just prior to one of their customary jaunts across the street to the Channel Inn. According to all three performers, this friendly venue has quickly become their favorite place for enjoying dinner and swapping war stories. Magical ones, of course. 

The three amigos are excited to be performing the show at Arena Stage, although they’d initially imagined it was more like a stadium than a theater, according to Dennis Diamond. They’re equally excited to be playing in Washington, DC, “a city that’s maybe even more famous than us when it comes to illusions,” Louis Magic wryly observes.

Upon sober reflection, in this Election Year 2012, that’s a compelling notion. Diamond readily picks up on one of the many possibilities. “You know, we can make things disappear,” he says. “Maybe we could try that trick on Newt!”

“Certain illusions like the ones we do, we find create a lot more energy,” says Hannah, the mystical one, adding that the trio wants to deploy this energy to take their audience on “a journey to the end of now, a journey we think everyone should take.”

In many respects, when chatting with these guys, it’s hard to pin down where the real world leaves off and where the world of illusion picks up. It’s every reporter’s nightmare. Are we getting the unvarnished truth? Or are we already entering into a Twilight Zone of unreality? Or an alternate reality? As with the late, put-on comic Andy Kaufman, it’s difficult to say. Our logical conclusion? Let’s just go with it and see where this takes us.

For example, are these guys kidding us about their names? “Well, no,” says Louie Magic. “Louis Magic’s my real name.” Seriously? “Actually, I’ve just made it my legal name, just a couple of weeks ago,” admits Patterson, who states he’s a New Jersey native. “My mother would hate me if she ever found this out.” As to his real, real name? Perhaps that’s yet another illusion. “That, I will never divulge,” he declares firmly, but with a twinkle in his eye, conjuring up, if only for a moment, a real-life Snidely Whiplash.

Dennis Diamond says he originally hailed from Canada and admits he started out on this planet with the unpromising name of Craig Dvorkin. “But I’m Dennis Diamond now,” he beams. He certainly looks the part, resplendent in a wild, yellow, more-or-less sport coat festooned with sparkly spangles that do resemble little diamonds.

And Daryl Hannah? We had to ask. “Yes, it’s my real name, the one I was born with. And no, I’m no relation to the actress at all,” he says, stoically but good-naturedly, accepting the fact that the Daryl Hannah jokes will never end.

But maybe that’s why he alone among the three of them has kept his original name. After all, the name in and of itself seems to be a paradox and an illusion rolled into one. And it never fails to generate a conversation.

All three magicians have been performing their magic for many years now. Louie Magic and Dennis Diamond recall being fascinated with magic even from boyhood. Magic bootstrapped himself by doing magic at kids’ parties. “I think I started at about age 10,” he says.

Diamond recalls that he got his start by purchasing tricks and jokes advertised in comic books as well as in “Boys’ Life,” the Boy Scout magazine, back when he was growing up in California. “That stuff was a lot of fun. I loved to use tricks and stunts to scare the bejeezus out of my brothers and sisters and other kids,” he says.

Soon he was building ever more elaborate illusions, inspired after seeing famous illusionist Doug Henning perform. As his routines became more sophisticated, “I found myself getting more familiar with things like carpentry and chemistry,” he says, using what he learned in successive illusions. He eventually got to put his skills to work professionally when he managed to get his act booked as part of the entertainment on an ocean cruise line.

Daryl Hannah got involved in magic much later in life than his two co-stars. He’d started out in music, married, had a daughter with his wife, got divorced. “I guess I got lost trying to find myself,” he says. But he cleaned up his act, got involved “with an Indian tribe outside of Tucson,” and studied the ways of their medicine men who, he points out, “aren’t magicians but are connected to a higher power.”

The tribe also introduced him to their birds, which they’d taught to perform in magic tricks. Then in his early twenties, Hannah was so fascinated with this that he was inspired to acquire and develop his own trained flock. This led to developing his unique traveling magic roadshow in which he appeared as “The Master of Birds.”

The act was popular, but misfortune struck Hannah again. “I became allergic to bird dander,” he says, “and I had to stop working with the birds.” This led to his branching out into other areas of magic, often employing humorous patter that delighted his audiences while also incorporating some of the ethereal feel he’d learned from the Indian medicine men. “I think Daryl’s magic is kind of sexy,” says Diamond. “It creates a special sense of wonder.”

Louis Magic, who really does sound like he’s from New Jersey, gradually refined his personality as the “Ladies’ Man of Magic.” He pitches his magic specifically at the women in the audience, “and they really love it,” he says. “Each magician has his own persona, and that’s mine.”

All three performers agreed they’d run into each other on the road from time to time at magic shows and conventions. It was at one of these conventions in Buffalo where, according to Diamond, “we were approached by a team of writers, Steve Cuiffo, Trey Lyford, and Geoff Sobelle, who wanted to get us together and script a show for us that featured our magic,” he says. And that’s what eventually evolved into The Elephant Room.

Neither Diamond nor the others divulged much about these mysterious writers other than the fact they were involved with at least one performance art group known as Rainpan43. Although Rainpan’s website is a little ambiguous, if you look carefully enough, you might become a little suspicious that the show’s scriptwriters physically resemble its magicians rather closely. Another illusion? It’s tough to confirm. No one is letting us in on this secret either.

That’s not a total surprise, for secrecy is the watchword in the wonderful world of magic, according to the Elephant Room cast. Magic, Diamond, and Hannah are willing to talk just a little teensy bit—but not much—about the underground world of serious and professional magicians. It works a little like a cult, or so it seems. But a friendly one. Or so they say.

“Magicians can belong to clubs or brotherhoods we call ‘chapters,’” says Louie Magic. These chapters have meetings and workshops in a regular space, “a kind of white box room. Our chapter meets in a basement room of a home store in Patterson,” continues Magic. They call it—wait for it—The Elephant Room. “And we’re the Elephant Room Society of Conjurors,” he says. “It’s highly secretive.”

Diamond and Hannah agree. “It’s mysterious, more secretive than even the Freemasons,” Diamond adds. “It allows us to push the limits of things in private and away from the public eye.” It also allows the members a chance to practice and perfect their tricks and illusions before an audience of fellow pros.

This, in turn, gives us some insight into what The Elephant Room is all about. It’s a magic show that runs on a script that’s sometimes revised on the fly. So it’s also partially a drama as well, but one whose participants employ tricks, juggling, illusions, and a not-so-subtle dash of slapstick comedy to relate their collective background story.

But this show also operates on a higher plane, evolving at times into a metaphor of life, in a way, at least to Hannah’s way of thinking. For what is life after all, but a series of tricks, surprises, and illusions, some of which dematerialize and float away, others of which become our new reality?

All three magicians, though, do have a single wish for their audiences: That everyone who attends the show be able to open themselves to wonder and leave the theater challenged to make magic happen to them in their daily lives.

Come to think about it, that’s a pretty uplifting goal for us all.

The Elephant Room runs thru Feb 26, 2012 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St SW, Washington, DC.
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Comments

  1. Their personal ”stories” are certainly interesting – wish I could say the same thing for the performace at Arena.  Usually easy to please thestre-wise, I was not enthralled by the magic or the set up – however the “ennui” in your interview above does apply!

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