Missed Connections, Jon Tai’s magic and mystery show, is a cozy hour of entertainment laced with his stories of, yes, actual missed connections. Tai and his co-creator, Alex Gruhin, offer a Zoom event performed live where you meet fellow audience members and make a brief personal connection. I shared these magical experiences with Pam, Katherine, Fuzzy, Don, Dawn, Levi and a dozen more friendly souls who found a virtual event to be more than just a viewing experience.
Most of Tai’s magic is the close-up tabletop variety; he uses an extra close-up camera to help us fully appreciate his wizardry. I was reminded of the tabletop magic practiced at some Chicago neighborhood restaurants and bars in years past. (More on that later.)
Tai precedes the event by getting everyone to feel comfortable in the setting, ensuring the two dozen attendees get a chance to introduce themselves during the 10-15 minutes before the show begins. Tai personalizes his patter with comments on guests’ apparel, accessories and room décor. (If you decide to participate, see ticket info below and be sure to log in early to get the full experience. A Red Orchid Theatre is presenting Missed Connections through the end of February.)
The missed connections theme is illustrated with Tai’s own efforts to meet people at a coffee shop where he sits at a communal table with a sign that reads, “Magic, mind reading and mystery on demand.” Not much luck there. And he tells his story of an OK Cupid encounter with a woman that he really wants to meet. They arrange to get together at a certain date and event but, of course, miss connections. He wraps the story thread up at the end of the evening.
We also receive a long list of Craigslist missed connections. We read some, chosen “randomly” by number. Like “immaculate produce at Trader Joe’s 6/26” and “Sagittarius looking for his Leo.” (I wish we could have read “Please give me the keys to the handcuffs.”)
Life is a series of random encounters and not necessarily governed by our careful choices. Tai illustrates this by describing multiple universes where a choice or event can have a different outcome. Such mind-bending and mind-reading choices complete the evening’s activities.
A Red Orchid describes Missed Connections as a play in which “a magician’s cosmic love story inspired by the work of Haruki Murakami [a Japanese surrealist author], Marshall McLuhan [the “medium is the message” guy] and Derren Brown [an English illusionist], takes 25 audience members on a roundtrip voyage to the stars in search of the invisible thread that connects them all.” (The descriptions of the three who inspired are my additions.)
That description is slightly overblown, but Tai and co-author and producer Gruhin have created an hour of magic and mind-bending tricks that will make you forget your pandemic routine and remember the pleasure of sharing a space with other arts lovers. It’s an hour of “how did he do that” activities. Don’t ask the question. Just enjoy the experience.
Tai’s tabletop magic reminded me of Chicago’s restaurant and bar tabletop magicians who performed for drinkers and diners for decades in neighborhood saloons. One of the best known was Schulien’s Restaurant on Irving Park Road in the old German neighborhood. Schulien’s, which was open for almost 110 years before closing in 1999, had a great bar for drinking and hanging out but the magic was after your fine German dinner, when a magician would come to your table and perform a 10-minute magic show, featuring card tricks, coin tricks and other sleight of hand. Sometimes if the bar wasn’t busy on a weeknight, the bartender would perform a few tricks for you. Schulien’s first magician in the 1920s was the legendary Harry Blackstone Sr.
Missed Connections runs through February 28 with performances Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sundays (two shows on Saturday). Tickets for the virtual production are $25. You need a desktop or laptop computer, webcam and microphone to participate. Phones and tablets aren’t supported. See more information on the website.
Magicians and mentalists are finding a home in the virtual theater world. We recently reviewed The Journey, Scott Silven’s show with a similar interactive magical theme, presented by Chicago Shakespeare. We also recently saw the acclaimed production, In and of Itself, by storyteller and magician Derek DelGaudio. It’s available on Hulu. And Chicago’s Dennis Watkins is performing his virtual Magic Parlour at Home magic and mind-reading show.