If there's a building Houdini at your house, treat him or her to the kid's show at Brook Farm Inn of Magic. Here's the winning combination: all the pizza and spaghetti they can eat, all the soda pop they can drink, and a magic show for $6.50 -- No Parents Allowed.
The new act began when a couple of zany magicians blew in from Aspen in late December and transformed the staid, declining restaurant in Chevy Chase -- it was a tearoom in Eleanor Roosevelt's time -- into a barrel of laughs.
"There's magic in every aspect of what we do," said local co-owner Noel Clark. "We feature close-up magic at your table, bartenders doing magic tricks, and the magicomedy cabaret for adults on weekends. We're trying to dispel the notion that magic is just for kids."
Still, the kid's show has its charms, especially if you've got a birthday party coming up. One recent Saturday afternoon, there were three birthday children in an audience of about 80, so the show took on theatmosphere of a giant, raucous birthday celebration.
Enter a cozy, rustic pine-paneled room with a stone fireplace, beamed ceiling, deer head trophies. One wall is dominated by a 1923 poster of a fellow in a green turban that ends in a question mark. Two beams of light whammy from his eyeballs to a crystal ball held by a skeletal hand. The cryptic caption is: Ask Alexander, the man who knows.
The kids are seated at long wooden tables. Soon, a big genial man named Chazoo comes out wearing a top hat, a babby tuxedo, and an enormous mushroom-covered tie. He blows a long green balloon and in a flash, his magical fingers have twisted it into the shape of a dog with a waggly tail. A table of somewhat blase "older" boys erupts into shouts of "That's mine, I want the green one!" Chazoo works his way around the room, creating a balloon animal for each child.
Meanwhile, waiters are circulating with trays full of soda. A little blonde named Tasha in a white ruffled blouse, blue velvet jumper, tights and black patent Mary Janes points demurely to a Shirley Temple with a cherry in it. Three trips later, the waiter gasps in disbelief: "She still wants another one?" At the next table, a boy advises his friend, "Keep track of how many 7-Ups I've had. My mother won't believe it."
Huge pepperoni pizzas appear and the kids dig in, trying to gobble up gooey strings of cheese before they break in the air. Next, a waitress emerges with plates of steaming spaghetti held high and places them before those who still have room. "Anybody want more?" asks the waiter. Quite a few hands shoot up for seconds, a sprinkling of intrepid hands for thirds. "Yessir, right away sir"; it's all part of the act.
The kids stack their dishes in containers, everyone sings Happy Birthday. While the tables are being cleared, a few start chanting, "We want a magic show." Before long, the red-and-gold velvet curtain goes up and out pops Chazoo (a.k.a. Charles Zuis, "that crazy Lithuanian with the big tie"), telling the kids what you can do at a magic show -- "You can laugh, you can giggle, you can applaud."
At this show, you can also participate. Chazoo enlists Elizabeth, a fourth-grader at Green Acres School, to hold three ropes he has pulled from his magic garbage can. David, from Leleand, is to wave the magic wand over Elizabeth's ropes and turn them into one long rope. Of course, the wand keeps collapsing so there is much merriment before the outcome.
Chazoo produces a magic book in which the pictures become colored when the kids pretend to throw the colors from their clothes up on stage. After a few more tricks involving the kids and silk handerchiefs, magic blocks and a mind-reading bunny named Jeannie who does card tricks, he winds up.
"Many years ago, I was the great Houdino. He threw out a rope and a little barefoot Hindu boy in shorts climbed up it and disappeared, says Chazoo. He throws out a rope -- the audience is all anticipation. Not to worry. He turns it into a multi-colored scarf that says, "That's all, folks."
Next, Brook Farm's chief magicianand co-owner Bob Sheets, who has been waiting tables, bounds on stage and recites a poem. Sheets, an irrespressible young man with a blond Fu Manchu beard and moustache, is known here as the Jolly Jester. He hass been a magician with the circus and Magic Castle, a nightclub in Los Angeles. Sheets wears a rainbow T-shirt and an Army-green jester's cap. His spiel recalls the old-time traveling medicine show. Sheets explains about the amulet which magicians carry to ward off evil spirits and shows off his, a "magic weenie." He also shows his magic wand, a little plunger, explaining, "I looked all over for one that suits mey personality."
After involving the kids in a few tricks using the hot dog and the wand, Sheets bring out some Chinese brass rings and lets the kids try to tug them apart. Finally, Melissas is able to separate them with one breaths.
For the grand finale, Sheets dons a devil's hat. "I used to be circus fire-eater," he tells the kids, making them promise not to try this trick at home. "Oohs and aahs are acceptable," he says. He calls in the parents to provide a little background music.
With everybody humming furiously, Sheets licks the lit stick and blows a long curl of fire from his mouth to ignite the unlit stick. Ooooh. Eventually, he apperas to consume the dancing flames. Aaaah. The kids agree that the fire-eating was their favorite part. It is something to see.
The show is over, but where is the fireeater? We want to tell him how much we enjoyed his performance. "He went to get a drink of water," says six-year-old Andrew, symphatetically.
As we prepare to leave, one of the moms seems to have pulled a disappearing act. We find her in the Magic Bar, sampling an Upside-down Margarita. (This involves sitting inan antique barber chair, back of the head flat on the bar, mouth open. Bartender pours Margarita ingredients into mouth. Swish and swallow.) "It really does the trick," she tells us.