Magician Justin Purcell is a drummer in a punk band. Mick Napier, director of Purcell’s new show An Honest Living at Chicago Magic Lounge, has brought a daring, dangerous punk-rock sensibility to Chicago comedy for decades, and, during the pandemic, regularly debuted videos of his latest card tricks on Facebook. Two great tastes that go great together? That’s definitely the case with this rollicking show full of impressive prestidigitation.
The combo is also perfect for this lively magic venue, where close-up magicians roam the showroom for one-on-one card tricks before the main act takes the stage, and the centerpiece of the front bar is a green baize rectangle where yet another magician awaits to entertain audience members enjoying a post-show nightcap. This is a fun, high-energy place, and Purcell fits it as neatly as a deck of cards slides into its laminated box.
Purcell goes for a rumpled, tossed-off vibe, setting the stage with a torn-open Amazon delivery box that seems to have been haphazardly discarded on a table behind him. He also relies on comically flimsy props that go with his mumbo-jumbo patter about the goddess of magic and mystic scrolls delivered by druids, all while regularly throwing in the phrase “Magic is real” in a way that suggests, while the audience might not believe it, they should.
He makes a compelling case for the existence of magic with a suite of increasingly complex tricks, most of them involving cards and all of them involving audience participation. (Of the non-card illusions, I’ll offer one critical aside: There’s a set piece involving metal rings linking and unlinking in unlikely ways. Even though Purcell sets up their appearance cleverly and is adept at manipulating them, if I never see a magician do ring tricks again, I’ll be perfectly content. My theory is that most people in the audience spend their time trying to figure out the mechanics of where the rings open and close to allow the linking. Magicians, please take note: Only small children are impressed and amazed by ring tricks at this point.)
Purcell starts off with an amusingly over-the-top coin trick, noting that money is the world’s most persistent illusion, and then gets down to highly entertaining business with the cards, making them levitate and appear in places they can’t possibly have transported to. Right? Unless, of course, magic is real.
Justin Purcell’s An Honest Living runs Wednesdays through January 3 at Chicago Magic Lounge.
Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson