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A Simulacrum

While Lucas Hnath's latest show approximates a magic show, it also is a lecture demonstration.

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Steve Cuiffo in a scene from Lucas Hnath and Cuiffo’s “A Simulacrum” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Ahron R. Foster)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

In Dana H., playwright Lucas Hnath used a recording of his mother telling of a horrific event that happened to her and has actress Deidre O’Connell recreate the event by lip syncing to the tape. In A Simulacrum, Hnath goes one step further and creates a play about magic by having sleight of hand artist and illusion designer Steve Cuiffo, a longtime friend, recreate his half a conversation and demonstration on magic live while we listen to Hnath question him and set up rules with his half recorded on tape. This is based on workshops that Hnath and Cuiffo participated in together in 2021 in which they taped 50 hours on magic and the history of magic. A Simulacrum, which means a representation of something, is an edited 90 minutes version of those private 50 hours now performed for the public.

While the evening is performed without intermission, it breaks into two parts, their workshop on August 10, 2021 and another one thee months later in November of the same year. Cuiffo enters the stage and sits at a table center stage which has a cassette player, with a separate prop table to his right (set design by Louisa Thompson). He presses play and we hear Hnath as if in the room with us set up the situation and then ask, “Steve, show me a magic trick.” (Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel.) While Cuiffo never really gives up any secrets of magic, he does discuss the theory behind it, quoting experts S. W. Erdnase and Dr. Jacob Daley as well as describing what it is like to do illusions for an audience and his history with magic.

Steve Cuiffo in a scene from Lucas Hnath and Cuiffo’s “A Simulacrum” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Ahron R. Foster)

Cuiffo performs the magic trick in which a deck of 11 disarranged playing cards including Ace through ten travel up his sleeve in proper numerical order, claiming that the blow on the cards makes all the difference. He follows that up with the ambitious card trick in which a chosen card rises to the top of the deck each time he commands it. He then performs the trick of shredding a newspaper and unfurling it completely restored. Next he links rubber bands which then detach themselves. Following that, he does the trick in which he drops a silver dollar and then causes it to return back to his hand. Lastly, he does the illusion with the cups and balls in which the ball appears to jump into a cup of its own volition.

For the next workshop three months later, Hnath gives Cuiffo three assignments: a realization of some fantasy he would like to do, create a trick that fails, and create a trick that Steve’s wife Eleanor would love, she who has professed that she hates of magic. Giving Hnath a list of 100 ideas, Cuiffo asks him to pick one which he will do. Hnath chooses from the list to make frozen ice appear from nowhere and to our amazement we see this very trick.

Steve Cuiffo in a scene from Lucas Hnath and Cuiffo’s “A Simulacrum” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Photo credit: Ahron R. Foster)

He then demonstrates a trick with two picture frames, glass inserts and a hammer. This trick represents one that fails as Hnath is not entirely convinced by it. Finally they discuss the trick created for Eleanor. It requires a Hallmark box and a child’s doll called a Huggums. Ultimately in a coda or a third act, Cuiffo does the trick for his wife who we hear on the soundtrack, and we like his wife are suitably impressed.

While the show approximates a magic show, it is also a lecture demonstration. However, if you are hoping to hear how the tricks are accomplished you will be disappointed. Cuiffo who has a charming demeanor is both low-key and casual, dispassionate and nonchalant.  A Simulacrum is a diverting evening but it may leave you hungry for more – or at least the explanations of what you have just seen before your eyes. The rapport between Hnath and Cuiffo is that of friends and by the end of the evening you may feel like you have been admitted to their inner circle.

A Simulacrum (extended through July 9, 2023)

Atlantic Theater Company

Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 646-989-7996 or visit

Running time: one hour and 30 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (989 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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