On a cold January Wednesday, with little going on, a trip into the beautifully fake laundromat on Clark Street yielded a packed showroom, filled to the balcony with local fans of prestidigitation checking out the latest fare at the Chicago Magic Lounge, one of the most notable success stories of late on Chicago’s live entertainment scene.
On hump day, or whatever it is that defines a Wednesday, the Magic Lounge books a weekly regular for some three months of gigs, in contrast with the variable weekend programming. For these cruelest months of wind chill and gray skies, that performer is Harrison Lampert, an intriguingly self-deprecating magician with nihilistic tendencies.
Lampert works with an ill-fitting jacket and very few props: a deck of cards or three, three ropes (or one, depending on the moment), and a couple of hoops. At one point, he does appear with a little box of tricks, only to spill it all over the stage. That sense of a magician trying to avoid being utterly swallowed by the chaos he has created in his own head is at the core of Lampert’s act. And his existential panic is at once off-putting and rather beguiling.
You might think of Lampert as the antithesis of the silent Teller; in his hourlong set, which is very funny, Lampert never stops talking even for a second. He intentionally allows his mouth to form words even before his brain fully has decided what to say, all part of his theme of being pretty much a total mess, albeit one for whom the cards and ropes still manage to effect some remarkable transitions. You don’t really know whether to watch his mouth or his hands — or the sweat upon his brow — all of which Lampert turns to his advantage.
This is comedian as nebbish, magician as survivalist, improvisor as stream-of-consciousness absurdist, deeply mistrustful of his own clearly apparent skills and doubting why anyone would want to come and see him. Especially, he keeps saying, on a Wednesday night.
Nonsense. Perfectly fine choice for any day of the week; any good magic audience is filled with people just like him, enjoying watching a version of themselves doing better tricks.
Ken-Matt Martin, former artistic director of Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater, has been appointed interim artistic director of Center Stage, a regional theater in Baltimore. Martin, whose controversial dismissal from the long-standing Chicago company has been much in the news, replaces Stephanie Aberra, who resigned her position at Center Stage to become a program office at the Mellon Foundation. Also, David Schmitz, the former executive director of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, has parted company with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he has been executive director since 2020. The Ashland, Oregon festival, which has been struggling for a variety of reasons both internal and external, laid off or furloughed some 19 staffers this week in an apparent drive to cut costs. The theater said that the departure of Schmitz was “effective immediately.”
Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: Harrison Lampert’s “Mixtape” (3 stars)
When: Wednesday nights through March 27
Where: Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St.
Running time: 70 minutes
Tickets: $40-$45 at 312-366-4500 and chicagomagiclounge.com