Saturday, February 17, 2018
Stage

Stage planner: The Illusionists do the impossible , 'Unelectable You' rolls with political realities

NOW YOU SEE IT: THE ILLUSIONISTS

The Illusionists are blowing through Tampa like superheroes, each endowed with special powers. The Anti-Conjuror (Dan Sperry), a Goth apparition with black fingernails and lipstick, multiplies birds and nearly beheads himself with dental floss. The Escapologist (Andrew Basso) will risk drowning while locked upside down in a glass tank, and this time his luck might run out. The Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin), said to be a current world champion in sleight of hand, makes cards change color and disappear as audiences follow along on high-definition footage of his hands.

One acts blends into the next to the pace of rock music composed for the show. The Illusionists — Live from Broadway runs this weekend at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.

"Magic doesn't really happen on stage, it happens in your mind," said Kevin James, whose character, the Inventor, builds a human being out of body parts.

James, 54, grew up in tiny Jonesville, Mich., a relative of P.T. Barnum. (For you genealogists, his mother was a member of the Clarke family.) His first memory of snow is so personal, he translated it into a trick, producing clouds of "snowflakes" from a wet square of paper.

"Usually the big things are not the best things," he said.

The show starts at 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35-$95. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

RUN FOR IT: UNELECTABLE YOU

The creative team behind Unelectable You: The Second City's Completely Unbiased Political Revue, a partnership between Second City Comedy and Web magazine Slate, had no idea 2016 would shape up the way it has.

Second City director Matt Hovde told the Chicago Reader that "a pretty unanimous belief" all around that Donald Trump would fade during the primaries gave way to shock, then delight. Because what could have more comic potential than the star of The Apprentice running the most powerful country in the world?

The two-hour show combines sketch comedy with improv — and, in an innovative twist, journalism — to examine "the media circus, to looking at ourselves to see if we're the problem" and ask what it means to be "electable," its website promises.

By involving Slate political writers in the planning and even some of the performances, Unelectable You can stay current on a daily basis as the show travels the country. Interviews with a Slate reporter in multimedia presentations lead immediately into an improv scene. Those bits complement, and sometimes replace, pre-written material.

Writers have tried to avoid the easy jokes, instead focusing on dynamics of the electoral process. One sketch, for example, takes aim at the role of Internet commenters. Even if the election is not shaping up to be very funny, Unelectable You might just be. The two-hour show for mature audiences starts at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Straz Center's Ferguson Hall, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. $35-$45. (813) 229-7827. strazcenter.org.

STAYIN' ALIVE: ST. PETERSBURG CITY THEATRE

Reports on the death of St. Petersburg City Theatre have been greatly exaggerated.

In August, I reported on the theater's financial distress. Some readers apparently took the story to mean that the community theater, which has a 91-year local history, had closed.

"Lately, I have heard from several people that the general public does not believe we are having a season this year because of the article they read in the newspaper," said Sharon Cook, the theater's president, in an email.

This is untrue. The theater's season opens Friday with Star Chix — Trekkie Estrogen in Space, a comedy written and directed by David Middleton, the theater's marketing director. Conceived as an all-female version of Star Trek, the show contains "double entendres, corny jokes (and) outrageous puns," a flier promised. The show starts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. It runs through Oct. 2 at St. Petersburg City Theatre, 4025 31st St. S. $22, $15 students. A preview at 8 p.m. Thursday costs $15. (727) 866-1973. spcitytheatre.org.

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