Review: The Chicago Magic Lounge Wows and Amazes with Justin Purcell’s An Honest Living

How does a theater critic review a magic show? 

On the surface, this question might feel simple. Did the magician succeed in bringing the audience along for the ride? Did I feel tricked? Ultimately, did the magic feel real? However, this is all relative. Every audience member attending a magic show brings their own experience. Some enter wanting to figure out every trick, and some want to be carried along—living in a world in which magic and wonder exist fully. 

On another level, how does a critic convey the success of the magic tricks? Every magician requires an element of surprise. Upon walking into the Chicago Magic Lounge, every audience member is warned that while photos are allowed, videos are not. We want to keep the magician’s secrets and ultimately, describing the magic tricks in a review seems to infringe on that very goal. 

So, I return to the question: How does a theater critic review a magic show? 

To start, I can say that the experience of attending a show at the Chicago Magic Lounge is noteworthy on its own. From the very moment an audience member sits at one of the tables in the theater, the magic begins. As bartenders come around to offer drink and food options, magicians travel from table to table. Gasps and applause can be heard from various points of the room as audience members are wowed with card tricks and table magic. Each of these magicians that I experienced was incredibly personable, and takes the time to get to know the patrons a little before starting their act. I personally felt that if the table magic was this impressive, how could the main act possibly top it?

However, when the lights went down and Justin Purcell came on stage, it was clear the true show was about to begin. I hesitate to spoil the tricks that he performed, but I can say that from the very first act, he engaged with the crowd. The acts ranged from small close-up magic to larger moments that included audience participation on a much larger scale. The audience became a second character in his performance, and Purcell regularly engaged with everyone in the space. Parcell built this relationship with ease, bringing a charisma that invited us to trust him and willingly go along for the ride. 

Justin Purcell. Photo by Sarah Elizabeth Larson

I admit that when attending a magic show, I am often one to try and reason out the tricks. I look for the loopholes and consider all the possible ways the magician might have accomplished the task at hand. With Purcell’s show, I dropped that tendency within the first five minutes. He was clearly having a blast on that stage, and that enjoyment radiated throughout the theater. I was not alone in responding to the various acts with a gasp or cheer, and as the show went on, the volume only increased. Rarely do I find myself quite as engaged with a performance piece, and who knows? Maybe it truly was magic. 

To put it simply, An Honest Living is a night to remember. If you enjoy a night of fun and wonder, this show is one for you. 

An Honest Living runs through January 3, 2024, at the Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St. Tickets range from $42.50 - $47.50 for Wednesday night performances. Running time is 60 minutes without intermission. The Chicago Magic Lounge is a 21+ venue; 16+ allowed with legal guardian.

Lauren Katz is a Chicago-based director, educator, and arts administrator. She has been reviewing shows since moving to Chicago in 2016 and loves seeing the exciting range that the Chicago theater and arts scene has to offer.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Lauren Katz