Oct 29, 2023



Dumbfounded is an understatement. Walking away from Ivan Amodei’s “Intimate Illusions” — a magic show at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Friday — I openly reveled in a cathartic state of childhood bewilderment.

What just happened? I’ve seen some tricks of the trade, and am hopelessly gullible, but this one threw me for a loop. Amodei, dressed in a dark pressed suit, did things I couldn’t possibly explain, or attempt to understand. I guess that’s the point.

A women cellist, dressed in a blood-red gown softly bowed its strings before a couple hundred guests. Dozens of Victorian chandeliers kept the room dimly lit and a spotlight shone on a draped-covered painting and a table full of antique-looking props. It reminded me of “Interview with the Vampire,” – that classical eerie setting. Shortly I was shown to my seat. Smack dab in the front row. My friend looked at me, already blushing at the thought of being “cut in half” on stage.

We scooted down a bit, but were still in full view of Amodei, who opened with a few jokes, before swallowing a shot glass full of pin needles. Attempting to beat a Houdini record, he asked random audience members to yell out their favorite “exotic destination.”

Bombay,” one hollered. “Hawaii,” said another.

Pressing his fingers from his abdomen to his throat, Amodei regurgitated the first three needles in order of their color, which was predetermined by the audience. Picking up a globe he tossed it in the air, catching the spinning sphere on the tip of his index finger. Then the unthinkable happened.

He fiercely spit out the pins, which landed on the previously determined “exotic” destinations. Well, almost. He shot two for three, but humorously brushed it off. Maybe his technique was a mastered skill, not illusion. The opener set the scene for the entire night. The audience gasped when, halfway into his act, he asked a patron to grab a sealed and stamped envelope from the back of the room. Once opened, he presented it to the crowd. Numbers. Letters. What did it mean?

Earlier Ben, a lucky guest, donated a $100 bill, which was held by a woman, in plain sight, across the room. Those letters and numbers consecutively matched those on the bill. Later Ivan pulled me on stage. Bright red, and high heeled, I stood facing the crowd, blinded by spotlight. The only person I could halfway see was my friend, who was pointing and cackling at my nervous attempt to talk before two hundred people.

I picked a card from his deck (a three of diamonds), wrote my name on it and placed it back. He asked me to check his front pocket. Was my card there? Reaching in, I searched the entirety of his pocket, spanning over his left thigh but pulled out empty-handed.

“I don’t feel anything,” I said. The crowd burst into laughter.

Already about a foot taller than Amodei (remember I’m in heels), he said, “You could have just said that you didn’t feel the card!” By the end of the act, I held a Listerine bottle in one hand, and in a second’s time he lifted a small cloth from the bottle and asked me to look inside. There was my card, with my name, inside the bottle, that I had anxiously gripped all along. I’ve been starring at it for four days now, trying to figure out how he could have snuck the unbent playing card into the narrow top without my knowing. I went into the experience with reservations. Maybe I thought I could outsmart the magic man. Maybe I could at least come out with an idea. But I didn’t.

His highly-interactive act was hysterical and successfully did what each patron hoped it would do – instill a childlike wonder in all of us, at least for one night. Originally from Sicily, Amodei brought his intimate show, exclusive for after parties at its venue on Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, to San Francisco March 22-23. He has won numerous magic organization awards, including the People’s Choice Award six times.