Review: It’s Magic With Cocktails in Sean Masterson’s Message in a Bottle at Chicago Magic Lounge

To sit in a beautiful, bustling lounge, surrounded by plush art deco fixings and dolled-up people, while sipping a cocktail (called Smoke and Mirrors) is a luxe experience indeed. But add in a few roving house magicians and a show by Sean Masterson (Message in a Bottle) that combines magic, puppetry, and hyperlocal historical storytelling about a magic rivalry in the 19th century—and you have yourself a perfect night out! Masterson has performing chops for sure, but he also has a sly sense of humor, and some riveting non-illusory theater storytelling techniques that focus our attention on his most beloved magical objects, including the memoirs of Michael B. Leavitt Masterson won the book at auction, from which he was able to glean the details of the rivalry between two magicians Alexander Herrmann and Harry Kellar. As a magician, he is able to appreciate the nuances between Herrmann’s and Kellar’s styles, while intuitively he leads the audience, a solid group of earnest midwesterners, to side with the Pennsylvania Dutch underdog who came to Waukegan with a dream. He demonstrates the personality quirks and preferences of each magician with a series of complicated tricks ranging from sleights of hand to technical, toying with escapology, and comedy magic and like every good magician in such an intimate space, drawing from the crowd of charming volunteers to assist.   Message in a Bottle is set in the perfect venue to match its charms, the Chicago Magic Lounge. Open seven nights a week for magic, the place cultivates exclusivity with a speakeasy vibe, from its hidden entrance disguised as a laundromat, to its strict no-video mandate and roasted olives on the menu, it delivers a classy time travel experience. Add in vaudeville-era portraits, accommodating waitstaff, and magical paraphernalia, and it has officially become my ‘take all out of town visitors here’ destination to prove that Chicago is a world class joint. You can see Message in a Bottle on Wednesdays at 7pm through June 29. The Chicago Magic Lounge is located at 5050 N. Clark St. Tickets start at $45 . Did you enjoy this post and our coverage of Chicago’s arts scene? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation by PayPal. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!
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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.