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A Magic Night for Sylvia

In July 2005, Dr. Sylvia Tracz successfully defended her doctoral thesis in Chemistry at SUNY Stony Brook. Colleagues considered Sylvia a truly great thinker, having thrived in a field dominated by men. Sylvia conducted advanced research on the role of hormones in type-II diabetes and had accepted a post-doctoral research position in a nationally acclaimed laboratory at the University of California.

Then, tragedy struck. On the night of July 24, 2005, Sylvia was on her way to a party to celebrate the completion of her doctoral thesis. An SUV sped through a red light, slamming into the much small car Sylvia was driving. She was nearly killed in the accident. During a lengthy hospital stay, Sylvia began to heal from the critical injuries she sustained in the accident. Eventually, Sylvia, who remained comatose, was airlifted to a rehabilitation center in Illinois. Remarkably, she is recovering, making slow but steady progress. To her friends and family, its seems nothing short of a miracle.

Unfortunately, mounting medical costs and expenses are providing a separate challenge. Some of Sylvia's friends and colleagues, including her brother, Arthur Trace, realized that she could use a little magic to help with her miraculous recovery. They decided to organize a charity magic benefit, in "A Magic Night for Sylvia" at the cavernous Staller Center at SUNY Stony Brook, which was made available without charge for the event.

On March 1, 2006, ten magicians, all of whom volunteered their time, traveled from around the country to perform at "A Magic Night for Sylvia." The event proved wildly successful. More than 700 supporters and spectators attended, packing the auditorium and generating $15,000 in ticket sales, while additional funds were raised through concession sales and discretionary contributions.

Not only was it a wonderful result, the show was outstanding. Spectators were treated to more than two hours of top-flight magic, including a fabulous stage show and a terrific close-up segment. Arthur Trace, Todd Robbins and Francis Menotti headlined onstage, while the close-up segment featured seven magicians associated with Monday Night Magic -- Michael Chaut, Thorsten Happel, Jenna Kassen, Dennis Kyriakos, Carl Mercurio, Ben Nemser and Andy Roberts. (Jon Stetson appeared in the program for the stage show, but missed the show due to an unfortunate travel mix-up.)

Innovation and originality were the hallmarks of the stage performances. Trace -- who flew in from Chicago for the event -- performed several sets. Winner of a prestigious gold medal from the International Brotherhood of Magicians, Trace, who could be a Buddy Holly look-alike, offers a thought-provoking fusion of stage magic and performance art. His opening set featured a theme about time -- in Trace’s magical world, a half-eaten apple becomes a timekeeping device, the magician’s ability to stop time explains his ability to make objects vanish, and the sands of an hour glass visibly dissolve only to reappear inside an egg. He did an unusual cups and balls routine using bells and clappers, and employed a large tin can telephone to perform a unique twist on the Miser's Dream. In "Postmodern Art", Trace blurs the line between life and art, as an abstract painting comes to life in his hands. Objects magically pop in and out of the canvas, changing color and form, while the image gradually morphed into a self-portrait of the artist. During this routine, Trace performs a wonderful silent billiard ball and card production routine reminiscent of Cardini -- the magic seems to happen to him.

Though I've seen Todd Robbins perform many times before (some of my comments about his work can be seen on his web site at ), he proved, once again, that he is one of the most entertaining people on the planet. During "A Magic Night for Sylvia", Todd acted as an engaging emcee, charming everyone by sponsoring an eat-four-Ritz-crackers-and-then-whistle contest among a dozen children from the audience. That Todd can squeeze every drop of entertainment out of this bit of business demonstrates the power of his stage presence. He contorted four strapping young men from the audience into the "Death-Defying, Anti-Gravity, Human Pretzel." He performed several of his signature sideshow effects, including the Human Blockhead act, in which he drives a six-inch steel nail into his nose with a hammer. He extinguished a lit cigar on his tongue and did something with a balloon that is simply too disgusting to describe or, for me, to watch. I really like seeing Todd perform. I just don't understand why.

Incidentally, while we were chatting in the lobby after the show, a man approached Todd and asked to examine at the nail Todd uses in the Blockhead number. Todd graciously obliged (and then performed a bonus Blockhead bit). The man admired the size and length of Todd's nail. He explained that, having seen Todd's show in the past, he had been inspired to try the routine himself, and had succeeded, though with a shorter roofing nail. I'm happy to report that I've never been struck by the urge to attempt to replicate any of Todd's effects, and that pleases my physician.

The third headliner, Philadelphia's Francis Menotti, entered bound in a straight jacket, and then, to the sounds of Charlie Chaplin tramp-style music, effected an escape. By entering in the straight jacket, he avoided the process of putting it on during his act, an interesting approach. Menotti next offered an interesting card effect based on the premise that his words would get confused as the cards were shuffled. His patter bore out this promise, then his words, and the order of the cards, magically returned to normal. Menotti performed a "Temporal Postage" effect, in which he vanished a silk, marked with a stamp initialed by a spectator, which reappears inside a sealed, postmarked envelope. He did a number prediction, styled as an "anti-prediction" in which the magician hopes to fail to prove that the curse of prescience has left him, and carried off a wonderful magic square and Rubik's Cube routine that went over well with the largely collegiate audience. A book test in which a spectator was offered a free choice of five volumes contained several subtleties that I found impressive, but seemed to be lost on the audience, while a silent card routine in which the chosen, signed card emerged from Menotti's duct-taped mouth scored big. Finally, Menotti did the "Professor's Nightmare, hitting the jackpot by selecting a giggly kid named Andrew as his volunteer. Sporting Johnny Depp cool and Adrien Brody-like good looks, Menotti is a smooth, likeable performer.

The magicians performing during the close-up segment brought unbridled energy and enthusiasm to the evening. Groups of spectators thronged around each of the performers, gasping with astonishment and cheering loudly as the magicians performed a variety of effects. I watched Dennis Kyriakos blow away a group of spectators. Dennis is a terrific performer with a good-natured "wise guy" persona slightly reminiscent of Rocco. When asked about this, he responded tersely "Hey, I'm from Queens." He beautifully executed the mismatched bill, and offered engaging manipulations of wooden cigars (effectively using the old "wooden Indian" joke). Dennis then did a solid rendition of the ambitious card routine, using a signed card with a card-to-wallet finish. He then did a card effect that struck me as nearly impossible -- noting my bewilderment, Dennis quipped, staying in character, "You okay over there? Should I go on, or is it too much for you?"

I wish I could report about all of the close up performers, but logistics and timing didn't allow me to see the others. I did hear the yells, cheers and applause while they were performing. Having met them after the show, I was impressed with their enthusiasm. All of the performers should be proud of being part of this spectacular night and for contributing their skills to such a worthy cause.

Anyone wishing to contribute toward Sylvia's medical expenses can send a check to: Graduate Chemistry Society, Sylvia Tracz Fund, Department of Chemistry, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-3400

Please feel free to post this on other newsgroups and boards or to email to anyone that may be interested.

Gary Brown

"If this be magic, let it be an art ..."
-- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act 5, Scene 3
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