The Magic Men

Enjoy perplexing pranks and prestidigitation (don’t worry, we had to look it up, too), courtesy of two very funny illusionists, Matthew Holtzclaw and Prakash Puru.

Matthew Holtzclaw and Prakash Puru have the magic touch. / Photo by James Hartley

It may take skill and nerves, but is driving a nail up one’s nostril really magic? Regardless, the act known as the “Human Blockhead”—familiar to habitués of Coney Island—was on the bill at Matthew & Prakash, a low-key but entertaining hour of illusion, tricks, and mentalism at Public Arts.

This was my first visit to the basement bar and performance space attached to the new Public Hotel. It’s a stylish, inviting spot—plush red curtains, roomy yet intimate, a sleek, shadowy bar and lounge out front. And let’s face it: Most magic shows aren’t ruined by a cocktail or two.

The guys make a funny team: Matthew Holtzclaw’s strapping, athletic frame is belied by his neurotic fear of mice (he tells us a childhood story about rodents—so expect a furry critter to be manifested). Prakash Puru is smaller, deadpan, and archly dry. In fact, since he remained mute during the first 10 minutes, I thought he was going to play Teller to Holtzclaw’s chatty Penn. But talk he does, with a clipped British accent.

magic show nyc
Anyone missing a dollar? / Photo by Jeffrey Kellogg

Like most magic shows, this one mixes classic fare—card tricks, rope-cutting illusions, and the traditional balls-and-cup routine—with comical banter and, of course, audience participation. A female volunteer went on a brief “date” with Puru, only to have him pound the aforementioned hardware up his nose. One of the funnier bits involved Puru memorizing every card in a deck borrowed from an audience member (not palmed off for another, I’m sure) while Holtzclaw loudly distracted him with insults. “Prakash! You’re a dickless piglet!” Holtzclaw brayed. “You’re a baby pig! Born…without a dick!”

Not to sound cynical, but it’s hard for adults to be impressed by magic. True, I don’t know how Holtzclaw snuck all the little balls and, eventually, a lemon underneath the cups. I certainly can’t do it, and I assume it took him hundreds of hours to perfect the sleight of hand. But, as grown-ups, we know we’re being fooled. So the impulse to be amazed and clap our hands like kiddies is tempered by the consciousness that it’s fake.

But then there’s mentalism, a type of magic that never fails to blow my tiny mind. After the card tricks and the jokes, Puru raked over the crowd with his deep, dark eyes, picked out random strangers, and guessed their zodiac signs. Then he had them focus on a childhood memory, and he correctly recalled it.

I clapped my hands like a 3-year-old meeting Elmo. Dammit.

Why You Should Go: Holtzclaw and Puru make believers out of skeptics.

Matthew & Prakash
Public Arts
215 Chrystie Street (between East Houston and Stanton Streets), Lower East Side
Sunday, December 17
Doors open at 7 p.m.; show at 8 p.m.

We can grab your tickets before they disappear. (Get it?)