Close-Up & Personal by David Regal
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii June, 1999)
David Regal grew up in the Boston area, then moved to New York City where he became a part of the local magic scene, and also spent six years performing with Chicago City Limits, a well known comedy group. Eventually he departed for Los Angeles where he now earns his living as a television writer, and continues to pursue his avocation—close-up magic—by performing regularly at The Magic Castle when his schedule permits. He has a smart and offbeat sense of humor, and an interesting and distinctive taste in magic, with an emphasis on card tricks and a preference for effects that are strong and extremely clear.
Consistent with Tommy Wonder's theory of the three pillars of methodology (psychology, manipulation and mechanics), Mr. Regal is quite comfortable with sleight of hand, but is also willing to go to great methodological lengths to achieve his consistent clarity of effect. He is also a capable writer, communicating his material in a succinct and readable style, seamlessly incorporating elements of theoretical contemplation and occasional humorous diversions in a restrained manner that never risks overwhelming the material. Assisted by a luxurious quantity of well-reproduced photographic illustrations, Mr. Regal has produced an extremely effective book for the purposes of presenting readers of almost any level of technical skill a sizeable quantity of truly useful material.
Let me emphasize that word: useful. That means that there does not appear to be much in the way of pipe dreams, noodling, session material, or other navel gazing in these pages; one readily apprehends the sense that the author has actually used all of this material at one time or another, and that his overriding interest and concern lies with the performance of close-up magic. That doesn't mean that every reader will automatically find the entire contents of this book to be "commercial," given their particular venues, audiences or personal tastes, and so I hesitate to use that much-abused term here; but it does seem that the author has certainly found much if not most of the material showcased in these pages to be commercial in his hands, and that is a recommendation that should serve to make this book worthy of any dose-up magician's careful investigation.
There are 72 items in this book, divided among seven segments; the majority consists of card and card-related material, including sections devoted entirely to assemblies, cards-plus-other-objects, and a section of gaffed card magic, but there is also a segment of ten coin items, a section of mental magic that includes some non-card items, and there are additional props incorporated throughout, both in the card and non-card material. As I read over my notations spread throughout these 264 pages, I am impressed by the quantity of sound, well thought out, carefully described material. Mr. Regal covers all the bases in his explanations, providing his scripts (and an excellent accompanying essay about why and how to write them), and explaining his reasoning and choices; if you are in search of material, whether for casual or formal performance, amateur or professional, you will almost certainly find something to your liking in these pages. And you will be able to duplicate much if not most of it with a minimum of effort, in the sense that most of the sleight-of-hand is accessible to those possessed of intermediate skills, and the mechanical requirements for the occasional prop construction require little more than a trip to the office supply store, rather than to a metal shop.
Mr. Regal was strongly influenced by Harry Lorayne, and the latter's taste for "quickies" is fairly represented in the opening section of impromptu card material, and which includes: a version of the "Collectors" which provides a unique solution to the now time-honored problem; a "Color-Changing Deck" routine begins with a magical production of the four Aces; a practical if bold idea for the "Spectator Cuts to the Aces"; a surprising sandwich trick with the Kings achieved via an equally unexpected method; and a nice two-card transposition which incorporates the Ace of Spades and a mental divination.
Among the non-card material is a piece of formal performance magic that involves an amazing transposition of a borrowed ring between two inverted goblets; the method requires some effort here but the results are assuredly astounding. There is a routine combining the "Acrobatic Matchbox" with the "Sympathetic Matchboxes" (as in the "Matchless Matchboxes," a pet effect of Albert Goshman's, originally marketed by Ireland Magic), in which the props end clean; this one isn't easy but it can be performed in walk-around conditions, and the props end clean. Also in this section is a version of the Grant "Slow-Motion Bill Transposition" utilizing business cards, yours and one borrowed from a spectator. A trick with alphabet cards (okay, this one's not non-card, it's non-playing card) ends by spelling out a spectator's name or perhaps the name of your client's company. There is a "Chop Cup" routine using cups and stuffed mice (really); and a spectator draws one card of a royal flush on one of five blank-faced cards; the other four cards magically transform to complete the hand.
I found some of the coin material generally less interesting and somewhat more derivative than the rest of the book's contents: a three-coin vanish seems inferior to, for example, Geoff Latta's routine in Stephen Minch's Spectacle, which relies on the same principles but has a far more elegant handling; a four-coin (only) reverse matrix, with an admittedly striking ending, seems burdened by inconsistent procedure and thereby inferior to David Arthur's version in CoinMagic.
However, the section is not without merit: included is an excellent "Coins Through Table" using a glass to handle the above-table coins, a routine that is a feature of Mr. Regal's formal performances. Another item—a penetration of a marked coin from between two rubber-banded playing cards and into a drinking glass—relies upon an excellent application for the hoary old coin fold. And a practical handling is offered which enables the magician to produce a three-inch coin from between four (or even one!) playing card on a table, as a climax to a coin assembly.
Although I have long been academically interested in card assemblies, I confess to having rarely if ever used them for the paying public, invariably being beaten back by conditions and resigning them to use in sessions, or merely for my own amusement. Thus I approached a section of no less than eight assemblies with a fair degree of skepticism. Much to my surprise, however, Mr. Regal takes some very different approaches to this plot, rejecting the elegance of Vernon's slow-motion stylings in favor of shockingly streamlined approaches that will no doubt leave audiences stunned. The author's choice of methods tend to be as direct as his preference in effects, and so the often daunting technical demands of assembly routines are not to be found here. Although of far less interest to me, more exotic, magician-oriented routines are also provided, including versions of the Krenzel "Progressive Assembly" and the Lin Searles odd-backed "Ultimate Ace Assembly" (to which a reverse kicker has been added).
The segment of mental magic, much of which utilizes playing cards, includes two items that caught my attention. One is a clever prediction of a chosen brand of candy bar. The other is a lovely routine in which the magician predicts a word chosen from the text of Hamlet's famous soliloquy; as the author describes it, in fact the spectator "steals" this word, since it eventually vanishes from a printed copy of the speech. This is an offbeat effect that will provide a capable individual with some great opportunities for performance; the method is equally clever, with the potential for wider application.
The final section of the book consists of five items requiring readily prepared "gaffed decks," primarily relying upon the rough-and-smooth principle. Although I'm not opposed to occasionally resorting to a gaffed card or coin, I have always strongly adhered to the principle that the only worthy justification of such use, especially in commercial close-up venues, is when an effect is achieved that can not be matched by ungimmicked means. All too often the prepared prop is relied upon because it makes the method easier, but this reasoning pretends that there is no downside to the use of gaffs. Such short-sighted justification is patently fallacious, as if the spectator manages to get hold of that prepared prop, or challenges you to hand it over and you are unable to do so, your credibility will take a nosedive from which recovery is not only impossible, but even the attempt is rendered foolish. What's more, I am also less inclined to rely on a prepared prop for a single effect, preferring the flexibility and variety afforded by the use of unprepared props and sleight-of-hand methods.
I explain this point of view because it makes it all the more remarkable to me that this small group of tricks with prepared decks turned out to be among my favorite material in the book. The fact is that Mr. Regal's demands of his gaffed decks are extreme: the effects are stunning, clearly plotted, and his applications of the principles relied upon are sound and not readily duplicated with unprepared props. What's more, the author has clearly worked out all the necessary requisites for using such tricks in actual performance, including managing the props, and getting them in and out of play in relatively simple but nonetheless reliably deceptive ways. In the "Deja-Vu Deck" (a previously marketed item), the face of a freely named card appears on one card of a blank-faced deck while in a spectator's hand. The author introduces this trick by commenting that "I never do walk-around without The Deja Vu Deck," and I can understand why. He also provides a stand-up handling that concludes with the deck becoming ordinary for further use.
Also included in this section is an excellent handling of Burling Hull's time-honored "Mental Photography (Nudist) Deck", with something of a reverse approach to this effect that was a favorite with professionals like Al Goshman and Don Alan. In "Pasteboard Massacre," another marketed item and "one of the highlights" of the author's act, the performer magically slices a portion of the deck in half, length-wise, and locates a selected card in the process—all without a deck switch. And "Flight of Fancy" consists of a beautiful and mystifying transposition of a single card from a blue-backed deck over to a red-backed deck; the preparation for this yields a stunning and visually dramatic effect.
In his foreword, Mr. Regal opines that "The method is just part of The Method," and that "There's enjoyment in finding the little things—the sleight, the gesture, the word—that work together to strengthen an effect. This is a book for people who like to perform magic." And earlier he notes that "In these pages I've attempted to write the kind of magic book I most like to read ..." I too enjoy those little things, and as it turns out, this is a magic book I very much liked reading; you certainly will too. He closes these pages with a list of his personal favorites from his previous book, Star Quality by Harry Lorayne. You know, I think I might just go back and look up some of those.