ONE OF THE first taunting proclamations the God-like figure of Dr. Ma-Gico makes during the first episode of her so-called magic show is that, in the interests of continuity, the audience "must look for a theme, but not too hard or you might miss it entirely." "We have a lot of kings," she says as the stage lights shimmer around her. "Maybe you could make something out of that."
With this statement, playwright Ken Barnard has covered himself. The audience must accept the series of farcical episodes which follow, attempting to make something out of them while the highly proficient actors concentrate on producing a stunning rendition of a not entirely satisfying play. Set in what appears to be an 18th or 19th-century court--or madhouse disguised as a court--the play uses the not-quite-worn-out vehicle of a play within a play to point up mankind's repertoire of vulgarities and bestial acts.
The actions of all of the characters are controlled by the omnicient Dr. Ma-Gico (Sierra Bandit), who calls each scene before it occurs, directs every action, no matter how perverse, and who even, in an ultimate expression of her power, controls the other actors with strings, driving them into a frenzy of jerky movements. Ma-Gico is the only character who is capable of moving freely throughout most of the play; the other characters either do as they are told or echo from the sidelines the actions and words of the principals of each scene, often creating extremely comic exchanges.
Ma-Gico even seems capable of controlling the audience. "Watch the mirrors," she instructs them, in a reference to the mylar-coated reflecting panels which encircle the stage. "Every eye is a mirror," she adds mysteriously, and all of the actors immediately freeze, staring intently at the audience for what was obviously an uncomfortably long time for many of the patrons. The unusual interlude greatly increased the audience's need for the play; their relief was evident when movement began on the stage as suddenly as it had ceased.
It is not until the grand finale that the Doctor partakes of the violence she had only been directing up to that point. In a kind of calculated loss of self-control, Ma-Gico wholeheartedly murders an old blind king who has just survived three similar murder attemps by lesser characters. Deriving overwhelming pleasure from the act, Ma-Gico can do nothing but end the play which has consisted, in effect, of a comic parade of hangings, murders, elongated phalluses, and other instruments of horror controlled by Ma-Gico.
The joy of "The Magic Show of Dr. Ma-Gico," however, comes not from profound statements about the human condition which it seems every play strives to embody but from the success of a tightly disciplined, clearly professional group of actors coordinating a spectacular production.
Probably the prime reason for the La Mama troupe's superb coordination is that many members of the group have been together with the director, John Vaccaro, for the past nine years. The company performing at the Loeb is one of three resident companies spawned by the original off-Broadway La Mama troupe, one of the consistently innovative forces in New York theater since its inception on a shoe-string budget nine years ago.
"The Magic Show of Dr. Ma-Gico," although lacking in traditional theatrical continuity, works as a vehicle for some remarkable performances. From the actors' if not from the playwright's point of view, it is certainly a success.