In the converted space of a building where a Gypsy fortune teller once plied her cons, the Psychic Ghost Theatre has materialized. There, Barry Taylor and partner Susan Kang levitate, float glasses and dice, pull a scarf through a pole, make a pigeon turn into confetti all within 15 feet of the audience. The opportunity to see magic done this close as compared with David Copperfield at the cavernous Patriot Center is more than a treat, it's almost a luxury.
Unlike the Fox network's series of TV specials revealing how magic effects are done, Taylor and Kang aren't really giving anything away. There is one trick performed in slow motion (with the amusing assistance of Stephen C. LaPointe), but though it's something you can re-create at home, there wouldn't be much point. (To say more would be to give away the Startling Secret.)
Psychic Ghost Theatre's show is in three parts. The first is a more or less straightforward exhibition of conjuring. The second is the re-creation of a 19th-century "spirit cabinet." The third is a seance, complete with Ouija board and maleficent spirit. It's two swift hours; this isn't a show where your attention wanders.
Historically, the spirit cabinet was a portable cabinet or, as in this case, a set of curtained screens behind which an entranced spiritualist medium, tied firmly to a chair, called forth psychic manifestations. Phenomena ensued. Tambourines rattled. Trumpets blew. Odd, unidentifiable things floated. This was taken by 19th-century spiritualists as proof of the Life Beyond.
In Psychic Ghost's presentation, the medium is Kang, tied to a chair alone in the curtained "cabinet," and the manifestations include the traditional tambourine, a whole bunch of aluminum pie plates that fly from behind the curtain, and a trash can that ends up upside down on a volunteer's head. Yet every time the curtain is opened, she's still tied to her chair and apparently in a trance. Her swiftest move, in more ways than one, is when a jacket from an audience member is tossed over the closed curtain, and a few seconds later that curtain is drawn to reveal her still tied as before but wearing the jacket. Arms through the sleeves and everything.
And finally the seance. The tiny audience (the theater, in Wheaton, only holds 18) sits in two rows, holding hands, while Kang, at a table, explains the identity of her "spirit guide" and expresses the hope that no evil spirits will manifest. Fat chance. Next thing you know, doors are slamming, blood is running down a mirror, the lights go out and something is slithering among the audience's feet! Yikes! Plus, there's the haunted doll
Taylor and Kang have decades of magic performance between them, but they're not slick. Taylor has a guy-next-door quality, and Kang is courteous and sweet. They're down-home entertainers, but there's nothing ordinary about their skills. Close as you're sitting, you can't catch any of the tricks. It all looks like . . . well, like magic.
"Psychic Ghost Theatre," conceived and performed by Barry Taylor and Susan Kang. Script and design, Joe Zabel; special effects, Stephen C. LaPointe; music and sound effects, T.J. Osbourne. At Psychic Ghost Theatre, 11234 Georgia Ave. in Wheaton, every Friday and Saturday night, indefinitely. Tickets are $40. Call 301/946-2882.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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