Monday Night Magic: Close Up and In Person Monte’s Trattoria
By: Alix Cohen
May 5, 2023: New York’s longest running magic variety show is now offering a dinner close-up magic combo upstairs at the venerable Monte’s Trattoria (since 1918) in Greenwich Village. What better way to see sleight of hand than about 15 inches away – accompanied by an Italian dinner?
Close up/Prestidigitation = secretly manipulating objects to do what you can’t see and often can’t imagine.
About 40 people occupy long tables. A waiter arrives to take drink orders. With shared interest, one tends to talk to tablemates. When the room settles, Producer Michael Chaut tells us what we’re going to see, then individual magicians visit each table. You’re CLOSE, but you won’t see how. Before and during appetizer, then after the entreé, close-up magic is performed. Later, each magician presents in front of the entire audience. Tonight the following performed:
Michael Chaut: Having begun performing at the age of eight, Chaut is a seasoned professional, a founder of Monday Night Magic and a principal of Monday Night Magic Close-Up and In Person. He’s performed all over the world on cruise ships, at conventions, trade shows, and corporate events as well as on stage and television. Michael believes magic is a way for a shy child to be brought out of their shell. In his case, the shy man has become the outgoing, and the impossible has become possible.
Chaut has an insouciant style as if magic comes naturally and nothing is surprising. Tricks arrive with ease and affability, well honed skill apparent. The magician bends quarters on which two of us had written our initials. He borrows two rings, one mine. The rings disappear and reappear on a key chain which has to be retrieved from a pocket and zipped open for reveal. Mine then disappears and manifests in Chaut’s zipped up wallet…in a sealed envelope. A last tossed off gesture involves a penned “x” on his hand which he says is something employed by, I believe, David Copperfield. I’m asked to make a fist after my ring is returned. Opening it now, I see he’s somehow penned an “x” on my palm. Neatly executed.
Billy Hsueh: Since starting magic at the age of 11, Hsueh has blended magic, comedy, and storytelling. He’s competed in many local and international competitions, earning titles such as Pacific Coast Close Up Champion, Pacific Coast Platform Magic Champion, Canadian Association of Magicians Close Up Silver Medalist and is current president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Hsueh seems shy. A few card and coin tricks at the table are sweetly rendered if a little awkward. His segment of the main show, apparently videotaped as an audition for Penn & Teller’s television challenge, Fool Us, is more grounded. “Take a deep breath in” we do “and lower your expectations,” he begins. Patter is smooth and apt. This magician employs a magic tea kettle out of which several different requested drinks are poured. I’ve only ever seen one other performer do this effect. The central parentheses of his segment finds a number of dollar bills increasing and decreasing before our eyes as counted out by two volunteers. It’s lengthy, but handled very well and funny.
Gabriella Lester: Lester is a 19 year old magician who has entertained audiences and companies in North America and Europe including venues such as the “World Famous” Magic Castle in Hollywood, performed on some of the biggest stages in Vegas and just appeared on Penn & Teller’s: Fool Us. In 2019, she became the youngest performer to receive the coveted “Eugene Burger Legacy Award” from the Magic and Mystery School in Las Vegas.
Like Hsueh, Lester is tentative at the table. Also like him she comes into her own onstage. An attractive young woman, the magician flirts. Back to back with a volunteer (on whose ‘buns’ she comments) Lester identifies what’s in an ostensibly memorized book. The familiar trope elicits several nifty remarks. An ersatz Houdini trick follows. Two volunteers chain her wrists to a connecting clip. As she talks and teases the men, one hand slips the cuff with regularity and fluency (as if she’s unaware) evoking audience laughter and raised brows from the volunteers. One can see her flex. Potential is solid.
Shawn Farquhar and Volunteer
Both Billy and Gabriela are students of the main event, Shawn Farquhar. The artist has appeared on numerous TV shows and fooled Penn & Teller twice. He’s performed in more than forty countries over
the last five years, is the only person to win both the top categories in the history of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and has won the Grand Prix World Champion of Magic at FISM, the Olympics of Magic in Beijing, China. Shawn has performed for the Queen of England and the Hell’s Angels, but not at the same time.
Farquhar is terrific. If you ever see his name billed in New York (he lives in Canada), get there, or better yet follow him for appearance dates. The magician is adrenaline-quick and off the cuff really funny in a smart way. He turns on a dime with people’s reactions, perceptively “reading” volunteers in a way that recalls mentalist Derren Brown’s books on human “tells” (change behavior or demeanor that gives clues.)
Shawn Farquhar (Alan Bailward Photography)
Like almost every magician tonight, the practitioner can skillfully manipulate cards, changing suits, order, retrieving that which was secretly chosen. What makes this different from artist to artist is accompanying patter. Farquhar is captivating. The completely original framing of magic with a ring elicits risqué double entendres about a translucent white “sack” holding jewelry boxes.
Creativity extends to props. A small wine bucket dangling from a seriously extended rod – so that further audience can reach cards – is a well plumbed sight gag. The hand-written label on a box of magic paraphernalia ostensibly from Farquhar’s childhood changes from what he might have scrawled at six years old to scribble that he tells us originated at two. Utilizing “papers of despair” i.e. years of losing lottery tickets –“oooo”, the audience collectively responds, he leads us into a show of implausible mathematical results. Oh, and is one of several volunteers stomping on another’s eye glasses and, if not, where are they?
Four or five at a time we very briefly sit with visiting artist Howard Hamburg who has joined the board of Monday Night Magic. “I’m going to try an experiment,” he laconically says. Hamburg is an American legend, part of the quintessential magic scene for more than 60 years. “I have always been an underground magician who is very passionate about the art of magic. My primary goal is to ensure that the present generation of magicians never forget standing on the shoulders of the giants who gave them tools they use today.” Hamburg currently has the honor of occupying the Dai Vernon table at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles.
The production is still working out table service kinks and there’s some noise from downstairs, but performance is intimate, professional and great fun. A different night out for those who enjoy what seems impossible.
All photos by permission of the artists.
Monday Night Magic: Close Up and In Person Monte’s Trattoria
Every Monday different practitioners
97 MacDougal Street (Betw. Bleecker and West 3rd Streets)
In the private dining room – upstairs at the back right
Arrive @ 8PM / 8:15 PM – Close-Up Magic Starts / Dinner at 8:30 PM / Show at approximately 9:00 PM
$95.00 per person for the show and three course dinner. Your choice on a set menu – includes tax and gratuity. Additional charge for drinks only.
Only 40 seats available.
- Click this link for tickets.
- Call the Monday Night Magic Office at 718-575-1349
- E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org