NEW YORK, NY.-
Magician Asi Wind makes no claims to supernatural ability or superhuman prowess. He is not a conceptualist, like Derek DelGaudio, or a storyteller, in the manner of Helder Guimarães, or a mentalist, like Derren Brown, or an endurance artist, in the style of his producer, David Blaine. His tasteful outfit layers black on black on black, he scorns flash and eyeliner. His sole prop, beyond a couple of paper envelopes, is a deck of cards. That deck has been created by the audience, with ushers handing ticket holders a card and a Sharpie and asking them to inscribe their names.
But when Wind manipulates those cards with the occasional ornate shuffle that speaks to thousands of hours of practice he reveals himself as one of the finest practitioners of close-up magic, an intimate style that depends on the adroit manipulation of small objects, working today. In the past months, Id had a couple of colleagues and a couple of rival magicians tell me that Wind was the best card magician they had ever seen. They werent wrong.
Are you seeing this right now? a man in the audience said, loudly and aghast, as Wind completed the first trick of Asi Winds Inner Circle. Thanks to a purpose-built theater inside Judson Church and the judicious use of an overhead camera, yes, we were.
Wind, who moved to New York from Israel 22 years ago, is bluntly handsome in a sportscaster kind of way, with a polished smile and an elegant bush of salt-and-pepper hair. A friendly host, he moves between affability and gentle needling. Im going to lie to you tonight, a lot, he says, eyes agleam.
Here is one truth: Most of the tricks he does, under John Lovicks invisible direction, are familiar. Cards will appear in wallets, in envelopes, under watches. He will pick them and guess them and arrange them in precise patterns when they ought to be random. Yet its not what he does but how he does it, with seeming effortlessness and obvious pleasure, a master at the tippy-top of his game. His ability to force a card on a volunteer and force it and force it and force it again is unimprovable. Excepting a few deliberate feints (moments in which Wind will appear to have guessed wrong, though he never does), he tends toward perfection.
The title Inner Circle is a minor play on words. The rows of seats, steeply raked, overlook a round velvet-topped table, which seats about 10 people, who assist with most of the tricks. Close-up magic is usually designed for an audience of this size, and certainly those viewers are privileged in sitting so close. (Too close? Come a little closer, Wind said, beckoning his table mates in. COVID is over. I heard it on Fox News.) But Wind has a way of bringing everyone in and making everyone feel a part of the show.
The show has a thematic spine, though this spine is somewhat flimsy. Wind uses the deck of audience-signed cards as an opportunity to meditate, briefly, on the names we are given and the names that we might choose. Wind was born Asi Betesh. At 13, he changed it. This was both to spare Westerners the difficulty of pronouncing his original surname (apparently we struggle sufficiently with Asi) and to occlude his Sephardic Jewish origins, which he then found embarrassing.
These ruminations are not Winds strongest suit. A practiced showman, he is clearly most comfortable with diamonds, hearts, clubs and spades. But whether you call Wind by his given name or his chosen one seems almost beside the point. If you spend an hour watching him manipulate the cards fluently, fluidly you will want to call him what he is: astonishing.
Asi Winds Inner CircleThrough May 28 at the Gym at Judson, Manhattan; asiwind.com. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times