Review: A Performer, His Story and Mind-bending Illusions Make In and of Itself Essential Viewing

The week’s biggest and most satisfying surprise come in the form of the filmed one-man performance from director Frank Oz, Derek DelGaudio’s In and of Itself, a production that is difficult to categorize and even tougher to describe why it’s deceptively simple premise packs such an emotional punch. The show ran off-Broadway in 2017 and the film was shot in 2018 (although it’s clear Oz shot different performances, based on certain elements that involve audience participation), and it clearly caught on with those who went to see it, since it counts among its executive producers Stephen Colbert and his wife Evelyn McGee Colbert.

Derek DelGaudio In and of Itself

Image courtesy of Hulu

In and of Itself starts out with DelGaudio simply telling stories in front of a wall featuring six chambers with different motifs set up inside them. It’s clear that this is a deeply personal journey for the performer, which would be captivating on its own. But he finds incredibly unique ways to draw the audience in, making it an equally moving experience for everyone involved. The stories he weaves are about identity, finding value in yourself, and the idea that no one really knows you as well as you know yourself—which may seem obvious, but when you find yourself seeing you as others do, things can get messy. In the end, DelGaudio wants his audience to know that at least one person in the world sees them, acknowledges how they view themselves, and even deems them worthy of shedding a tear in their honor. (This show will absolutely make you weep openly, and rarely for sad reasons.)

Part of what makes this experience so extraordinary is what it isn’t. It’s not some new age trip through self awareness. DelGaudio is a low-key performer, telling introspective stories that give way to something that is part group therapy session, part fireside chat, part magic show—as in actual illusions—that begin as masterful card tricks done as he explains how he got into magic through card-dealing trickery. But then he moves onto illusions that are harder to explain and come closer to mind reading and borderline miracles, involving such things as a letter picked at random from a stack of letters by an audience member, who opens it to find something genuinely shocking and unexplainable. The concluding moment involves a stroll through the standing audience that has to be experienced multiple times to be believed.

But the most powerful moment occurs mid-show when DelGaudio tells a story about his mother coming out as a lesbian to him when he was six years old. It’s a tale that is both full of pride in his mother’s actions and her strength raising him alone as well as one of deep sadness for a little boy realizing that he’ll never have a father in his life, after his abandoned the family years earlier. The resulting trick is pretty great as well and has a riotous payoff during the end credits.

By the end of In and of Itself, you feel like DelGaudio is someone you’re glad you met and wish you could know more about. But you also sense a darker edge to him that makes his work seem something more than just magic; these are tricks born out of necessity for him. There are stories of trauma and mystery and joy. And unlike many magic shows, I feel the film has an immense rewatchability factor. I’m dying to see this again, not to figure out his tricks, but to figure out the man doing them. As strange as it may sound for a magic show, this film is essential viewing; you’ve never experienced anything quite like this.

The film is now streaming on Hulu.

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