Conjuring Time | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Conjuring Time

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Conjuring Time, Live Bait Theater, through March 30. For an illusionist, Sean Masterson is an awfully deep thinker: his latest one-man show is just one Stephen Hawking reference shy of a lecture on the nature of time. Masterson covers a lot of scholarly bases, riffing on Borges with a lock trick and revisiting Einstein's and Galileo's theories in a quest to uncover the mysteries of a deck of cards. And in an age when much of what passes for magic is pure spectacle, he sticks to the fundamentals, exploiting parlor tricks and sleight of hand to illustrate his lofty ideas.

Key to Masterson's act is his goofy stage presence. Half his tricks look like they've been ripped straight from a Blackstone magic kit, but he compensates for the lamer bits with a warm smile and healthy self-deprecation. And though like any magician worth his salt he's an unrepentant ham, he also knows how to weave a narrative, reveling in the art of storytelling, as when he enacts a scene from Hamlet with his trusty deck of cards.

"Can you manipulate time, or does it manipulate us?" he asks during his opening monologue. By the show's eye-opening finale, we realize he's answered his own question by stopping the clock for one precious hour, creating an environment where time functions more like a sluice and less like a miserable jailer.

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