Destiny, Chance and Free Will & Other Presentations by Allan Zola Kronzek
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii June, 2000)
Over at the other end of the spectrum is this pleasant surprise in the form of a set of lecture notes. While I rarely review such items in this column, I thought this manuscript worthy of exception—and it is indeed exceptional. Mr. Kronzek is the author of A Book of Magic for Young Magicians: the Secrets of Alkazar (1992, Dover Publications), one of the more charming and thoughtful introductory magic texts for young readers that I've had the pleasure to come across. In these brief notes he describes four routines from his professional repertoire, and if you are interested in intelligent material that effectively combines sound thinking about tricks with insightful thoughts about what might capture an audience's interest in them, then these pages might reap far more reward for you than the meager asking price.
The first routine, "Playing With the Jokers," is a multiphase sandwich routine, designed as an opener in walk around conditions one of the greatest challenges faced by professional close-up workers. By introducing a playful premise namely that the Jokers will do the magic for the magician—and directly involving the audience both emotionally and physically in the action, these well-chosen handlings, described in detail, will achieve far more impact than standard sandwich trick fare. The required sleight of hand will be within the capacity of most intermediate card handlers, and all relevant sleights are completely if briefly described. The moves are carefully selected to render the appearance of move lessness invariably the goal of any good sleight of hand—and the routine builds theatrically, with the second phase taking place, very convincingly, in the spectator's own hands, and the third phase including a startling series of transformations. The moves are classic, the construction sound, the psychology excellent, and the theatrical impact no doubt effective.
The second and title routine, "Destiny, Chance and Free Will," is the standout piece in the manuscript. This is a remarkable presentation for the old plot of using a coin to locate a card, and at the denouement the coin is turned over to reveal a miniature of the selected card. Mr. Kronzek's version is inspired by Roberto Giobbi's "The Luck Coin" from Card College, Volume 1. This may seem like a prosaic effect, more cute than amazing, but Mr. Kronzek has elevated it to a theatrical and conjuring marvel. Each element of the plot is tied to a theme from the title, and the handling is cleverly constructed such that the ending, rather than playing as little more than a gag, should appear as a profound mystery. In essence, after a bewildering series of free choices by the spectator, with no influence and no magician's choice, the spectator discovers his own card, revealed in more than one fashion. This terse summary does not do justice to this textbook example of how presentation provides a bridge between a magic trick and its audience, and how the trivial nature of a magic trick can come to take on great importance when properly presented. (A foreign coin with a miniature card attached, along with several extra mini-cards, is included.)
The third item, "Hypnotizing Ben," is a presentation (without handling) for the Kozlowski $100 Bill Switch. Many have tried (and a few have died, at least metaphorically) to justify the illogical phase of the Bill Switch, in which after turning a small denomination bill into a large one, the magician often reverses the process by returning the bill to its original state an action that only a madman, a moron, or a magician would choose (your joke here). A few have perhaps found slightly better solutions than this, be it Gaetan Bloom's idea of buying the original bill from the spectator, my own presentational approach as described in Michael Ammar's Encore III, the change of a $20 for two 10s as used by Derek Dingle and Scott York, or the abandonment of the issue altogether by using the so-called Mis-made Bill. Now Mr. Kronzek has come along and contributed a terrific presentational solution that is so obvious, readers will be beating themselves with their own wands for not having thought of it.
The final item is a handling and presentation for Larry Jennings' neo-classic routine, "The Visitor." While I am less enthusiastic about this item, nevertheless it has some interesting elements to offer, including a fax machine presentation that includes an interesting new plot beat in which the transposing card is signed before and after the first transposition, along with some handling alternatives. I have several reservations about this version. Regarding the handling, I believe cleanliness and handling purity is extremely important to this trick, and lean toward Mr. Jennings' own approaches, or better still to elements of Howard Schwartzman's "Night Visitor" from Epilogue. And concerning the presentation, one must be very conservative about presentations that turn playing cards and magic tricks into recognizable technologies like fax machines, toasters or, for that matter, Star Trek transporters, because in the cause of trying to enhance the magic, one can have the opposite effect, namely to render the material simply silly and immature in appearance. No doubt if you are inclined toward story presentations, as the author clearly is, one can make this work as a theme, but even Eugene Burger points out that he uses story scripts sparingly, in order to lend his performances depth and texture.
With four routines in 29 pages, page numbering that begins with the content, all sleights described in the footnotes, and some first-rate examples of effective performance material and original presentation, this modest manuscript is a far better buy than the previously reviewed disaster the kind of work that truly contributes to the improvement of our art.