Big Friday sale

The Equivoque Choice by Jack Dean

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii December, 2005)


Why is it that mentalism is noted for meager, over-priced, under-filled, overhyped manuscripts? Is it that there are so few new ideas in mentalism, hence the slim pickings? Is it that the limited audience is desperate for something to read, hence the bloated prices? Is it that the audience itself is so finite—one envisions a dozen malingerers remaining at a latenight lecture at a P.E.A. gathering—that the price must be inflated so that the author can show a profit? Well, I'm no mindreader, so I don't pretend to know the answers to these penetrating questions, but I do know this: if ever there was a meager, over-priced, under-filled, over-hyped manuscript, this one fits the bill.

Equivoque is without doubt one of the most poorly understood and frequently abused techniques in all of conjuring. Yet equivoque can be, in the right hands, among the most elegant and deeply deceptive of all magical technique, because it is, and has been called, the purest form of deception. There are no gimmicks, and only the most minimal of props—virtually whatever is at hand can be put to use—and the requisite skill amounts to nothing more nor less than the laser-pure use of language, thought, and acting. Unfortunately, the principles are disarmingly simple; so simple that while they can be used with devastating precision and subtlety, lacking that subtlety they can be misused in ways that render the operator as graceless—and deceptive—as Kreskin reading a billet.

What's more, the secrets of equivoque are closely guarded by the experts, and relatively little exists in the literature to guide the student. There is the seminal manuscript Phantini's Mental Key , by Gene Grant. There is Dai Vernon's work on The Trick That Cannot Be Explained from More Inner Secrets of Card Magic; while equivoque is not specifically addressed by Ganson in that description, the implications are important for any serious student of the subject. There are isolated contributions scattered thinly throughout the literature. There were a handful of extraordinary seminars briefly offered by Eugene Burger in the 1980s, at which those of us fortunate enough to attend learned a very great deal, indeed. And, most importantly, there is the classic text, Verbal Control: A Treatise on the Under-explored Art of Equivoque; Technique and Applications by Phil Goldstein. This latter work, a "mere" eight-page manuscript published almost 20 years ago, is almost universally regarded as the most important single contribution in the field—almost, because Mr. Jack Dean appears to vehemently disagree. He also appears not to understand that manuscript, or indeed the entire subject, terribly well at all.

What Mr. Dean does understand, it appears, is how to assemble a bunch of other people's work—largely without permission—into a paltry volume, and then, without adding much else other than misinformation and, at worst, deliberate misrepresentation, sell it for his own profit. What we are faced with here is a loose collection—it would be an overstatement to call it "research"—of previously published work, which Mr. Dean then sometimes comments upon and to which he occasionally makes additions or alterations. There is a sizeable hunk of material from Charles Reynolds, which originally ran in Vibrations in 1989 and 1990, including Flags and Coins—to which Mr. Reynolds quite rightly and carefully credited the originator, Phil Goldstein, but the Goldstein credit is absent from Mr. Dean's description. There are some items relying on Roy Baker's PATEO force (Point At Two, Eliminate One), a contrived procedure which is almost impossible to intelligently justify (but which Robert Neale quite brilliantly applies in his trick Sole Survivor from Burger and Neale's Magic and Meaning [page 131 ]; Darwin Ortiz also puts the PATEO principle to use in his superb 10 Card Poker Deal routine from Darwin Ortiz at the Card Table ). There is a remarkably poor approach to the infamous Vernon Five Card Mental Force, which serves as glorious evidence of Mr. Dean's nescience. Before you start spelling a dozen letters, more or less, through a packet of four or five cards in order to drag one's self and a spectator toward the finish line, one would be far better advised to simply go home— and perhaps give the spectator carfare as well, in return for their pains. Please: hit the trick or hit the bricks.

Mr. Dean is not the first to miss the real secrets of equivoque, which you simply cannot learn from this manuscript, a reading of which will in fact likely completely confuse and mislead an inquisitive student. Those secrets are probably, above all, acting and attitude; secrets which render equivoque so incredibly challenging and difficult, and yet so rewarding and wonderful for those who use it regularly in our professional work. One must present an affect that is diametrically opposed to what is actually going on in the internal workings of the performer's mind. One must be outwardly calm, relaxed, confident, and utterly convince the spectator— without ever saying so!—that the events which unfold are exactly what the performer expected, because they are (apparently) exactly what is performed and achieved every time. Meanwhile, one is rapidly analyzing the situation and flexibly but forthrightly and precisely addressing whatever one is faced with. This is not unlike holding out (Note to Brad Burt: the term is in fact holding out, but I'm not the video reviewer) a palmed card under fire, while acting as if one is unconcerned and one's hands are empty. In fact, equivoque is exactly like such advanced sleight of hand—only more difficult.

That the author is not the first to misinterpret these points is understandable. That he spends much time attacking the use of the word "elimination," only to endorse it in other applications, failing to perceive the entire point has to do with when the word is used, not the fact that it is used, is perhaps a bit obtuse, but again, not entirely unusual. That he seizes on a few words of Corinda's, which had solely to do with a specific application of a three-item choice and were not offered as blanket rules for the enure study of equivoque, is perhaps mystifying. But on top of this, Mr. Dean goes on to attack the aforementioned Phil Goldstein manuscript by either entirely missing the points therein, or by otherwise blatantly misrepresenting the facts. He attacks Mr. Goldstein's "verbal overkill" technique, yet apparently fails to realize that this is merely Mr. Goldstein's personalized adaptation of Dai Vernon's all-important introductory script for the Five Card Mental Force. One must lead the spectator to try and out-think you if you are going to end up successfully outthinking him, and that is one of the express purposes of the verbal overkill. As well, Mr. Dean goes on to characterize Mr. Goldstein's approach as akin to Don Rickles insult humor, which is a gross exaggeration when one considers the subtlety of what Mr. Goldstein actually describes as "a shade of impatience" and a "slight trace of annoyance." These are subtle pressure tactics, relying upon careful and effective acting, which are no more akin to insult humor than the pressure that a good card worker uses in controlling a spectator for the classic force, or what Eugene Burger uses in his Voodoo presentation for the ashes trick (from his book, Intimate Power) when he "corrects" a spectator by ordering him to lower his extended hands, and thereby secretly planting the ashes. Misunderstanding or misrepresentation, this segment of the manuscript is completely distasteful. If you want to learn about equivoque, consult the sources mentioned above, and then try and see a master like Max Maven or Eugene Burger in actual performance. But whatever you do, don't buy this— and if you already have, demand a refund.

8-1/2" x 11" spiral bound; 35 pages; 3 illustrations; 1994; Publisher, Jack Dean's Stagecraft