Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ricky Jay likes the hand he's been dealt

URBANELY decked out in sleek charcoal black and unfailingly polite as he submits to a round of questions in the Geffen Playhouse's pre-show lounge, sleight-of-hand artist Ricky Jay can't help but exude a certain impish quality.

Ask him to discuss the David Mamet-directed reprise of his one-man show "Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants" and you might receive this engaging bit of misdirection:

"I'd like to tell you that in St. Louis they booked me 52 hotel rooms," he says by way of describing the title. "There's some thought that story might be real. Some that it might be apocryphal."

Those costars in question are, of course, Jay's infamous playing cards, the ones with which he can impale a watermelon from 10 paces or summon an unholy poker hand. Pick a card? Sure, but he does so with such extraordinary grace and wit that to say he performs card tricks, dear reader, is to miss the point.

"Tricks!" he yelps with genial mock horror. But in some small way, I fear I may have just broken his heart.

A master conjurer, Jay also has the stage persona of a storyteller known for serious erudition, drolly delivered. The show "is absolutely saturated with history but presented in a friendly way," he says. Each bit, which may make reference to a current street hustle or the 15th century poetry of François Villon, is "like a small play," he adds. "They're orchestrated; they do have plots."

Further elucidation about the particulars of his skulduggery does not seem to particularly appeal to him. But he has brought along something that does. "David Mamet gave me this yesterday for my return to the Geffen," he explains, unveiling a bit of early 20th century signage, a simple black-on-yellowed-white handbill from a Pullman car warning passengers to beware the "Card Sharks" and "Con Men" circling among them.

"I love the line 'have started their winter campaign on railroad trains,' " he fairly chortles. "In all my research in hustling I've never heard of a 'winter campaign.' "

Jay enthusiastically collects such ephemera. Like his own act, these items conjure up a world stocked with hustlers, lowlifes, gamblers and cheaters but that is somehow more honest than the one in which we live. And, as in his act, he communicates this passion with a contagious zest.

Beyond the stage, Jay is also a screen actor and film consultant, as well as a scholar. He advised on the Getty's "Devices of Wonder" exhibition and has curated for the Hammer MuseumFrançois Villon. He also created a standing exhibit on decomposing dice for the Museum of Jurassic Technology. What he's done more rarely around these parts in the last decade is take the stage.

For his show's second L.A. run, Jay -- who won an Obie after visiting New York with his 52 assistants -- has requested a return to the Geffen's petite, 98-seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.

"The ultimate is the two of us sitting here," he says. "I want to come as close as I can to one-on-one, impromptu experience. It's just flat-out better." As a performer, Jay treats his audience with an almost anachronistic degree of respect.

"You know this is going to sound silly, but I think it is a fairly noble profession to bring wonderment and some pleasure, I really do," he says. "Would you prefer to see a great show of mystery or go to a bad doctor? Which does more to serve us?"

By Mindy Farabee, LA Times Staff Writer

WHERE: Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood

WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. Wed.; runs 8 p.m. Wed.-Thu., Sat.-Sun.; 8:30 p.m. Fri.; ends Aug. 26.

PRICE: $75-$250

INFO: (310) 208-5454;

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

slight of shutter, originally uploaded by Gregory Comollo.

Government Mule & Ratdog at the Greek

It's all fun and games, till someone gets poked in the eye.

Sunday night I attended the Ratdog concert with friends: Aaron, Ame, and another magic buddy, Josh. It was a cool evening at the Greek Theater, tucked into the Hollywood Hills up by Griffith Observatory. First time there and impressed with the six thousand seat, outdoor, venue.

Seeing Bob Weir perform was like a visit with an old friend. How I yearn for some of those early 90's Dead Shows. Coming out of an ugly divorce with Cricket I was hanging with Moira in our "not dating" phase. I was gun shy but falling in love and enjoying quite a party. All the Dead shows we saw with Harvey, Ras, Dave & Rob Taylor, Camel Face . . . quite a time and a lot a really good memories.

It was about celebrating joy and music and love. Twirling and dancing and singing and even some drug use if you can imagine such a thing. Crazy kids and their dope. They can do what ever they want as long as they stay off my lawn.

Listening to Bobby sing "Friend of the Devil" brought back memories of being with a woman who I loved very much. I married her, and did the best job I could to make her happy. I accept the fact and the blame of failing miserably. She broke my heart and stole my children.

On this night I felt at peace with the past. I thought of Moira and the happy times we shared. The babies we made. The good times, and there were many.


I lit out from reno, I was trailed by twenty hounds
Didnt get to sleep last night till the morning came around.

Set out runnin but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.

Ran into the devil, babe, he loaned me twenty bills
I spent the night in utah in a cave up in the hills.

Set out runnin but I take my time, a friend of the devil is a friend of mine,
If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.

I ran down to the levee but the devil caught me there
He took my twenty dollar bill and vanished in the air.

Set out runnin but I take my time
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.

Got two reasons why I cry away each lonely night,
The first ones named sweet anne marie, and shes my hearts delight.
The second one is prison, babe, the sheriffs on my trail,
And if he catches up with me, Ill spend my life in jail.

Got a wife in chino, babe, and one in cherokee
The first one says shes got my child, but it dont look like me.

Set out runnin but I take my time,
A friend of the devil is a friend of mine,
If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.