Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Liberty Magic features Steve Valentine through January 20th, 2023.
By Jessica Neu
The word “magic” is used colloquially quite often. There’s holiday magic, the magic of traveling somewhere, magic when you get something to randomly start working again, or the magic from the lens of a child when their grown-ups can “do anything.” And then, of course, there is the magic produced by a magician that, when done well, makes you question your eyesight and capacity to understand basic laws of physics. But what happens when the magical moments of life and the magic produced by a magician intersect?
This multi-dimensional approach to magic is how acclaimed actor and magician Steve Valentine enters his show, Life and Other Deceptions. Valentine’s show delivers over 50 tricks, mostly sleight of hand, mixed with a blend of cheeky humor and quick-witted improv. Valentine’s tricks are deceitful and intriguing, but audience members are laughing so hard at his jokes that he almost does not need the element of distraction commonly used by magicians.
Valentine packs entertainment into every act and a rawness and vulnerability uncommon in other magic shows. After a hilarious introduction that reminds audience members of just how many approaches there are to performing a magic trick, Valentine begins to articulate his life story with a veracity that makes you feel like you are sitting with him at a local pub over a pint. His story is one of heartbreak and loss, adoration for mentors, and an appreciation for both the act of magic and the everyday magic around us.
Significant crowd participation adds a glorious opportunity for improv, but it also frames a major metaphor for the show as a whole. Valentine effectively tells his journey from England to Los Angeles, into Canada, down under in New Zealand, and back to the U.S. with various tricks accompanied by a video of corresponding memories, which adds to the emotional depth of the show.
Valentine’s quick dexterity when performing a trick is matched by his rhythmic delivery of the script. I do not wish to spoil any exciting sleight-of-hand tricks that Valentine executes. Not all of the tricks were seamless, but Valentine eloquently reminds us that he and all of us are human. He even cleverly pokes fun at some elements of magic in a lighthearted manner and acknowledges that the trick is never going to be perfect 100% of the time. However, he ultimately divulges an important lesson he learned from his mentor: “no matter how bad it gets, finish the trick.”
No trick went poorly for Valentine, but moments throughout his life certainly did. Life and Other Deceptions is Valentine’s way of reconciling separate careers in magic and acting and combining them in a way that makes purpose out of pain. “What’s the point,” Valentine questions near the end of the 90-minute show. “Is there really such a thing as a one-man show?” The metaphor of audience participation shows us that we, as a group of people, are constantly interconnected and dependent upon one another, especially if we serve as mentors. Valentine credits his magic ability to his mentor, to which he beautifully pays tribute throughout the show.
“Anyone who mentors a child never knows the life they can reach,” Valentine says. Few truer words have ever been spoken, reminding us that life in and of itself is magical.
For more information and tickets, please vist the Cultural Trust’s website at https://trustarts.org/production/82837/liberty-magic-steve-valentine-in-life-and-other-deceptions