- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Alarge white rabbit hops out of an upturned hatbox, climbs up to a microphone and begins to speak. Well, sort of. What the animal actually is doing is mimicking a welcome speech while secretly chewing on a banana. The audience — 245 black-tie-clad guests of the Folger Shakespeare Library — watch, both puzzled and enraptured by the sight.

Thus began the entertainment portion of an unusual Wednesday-evening benefit event that patrons who were present aren’t likely to soon forget. (They included Sen. Thad Cochran, Rep. Doris Matsui, Kenneth and Carol Adelman, James Johnson and Maxine Isaacs, Lee and Juliet Folger, Joe and Barbara Allbritton, Robert and Elena Allbritton, Evelyn Nef, and Mary Weinmann.)

After the rabbit came comedian-magician Rich Bloch, the show’s emcee, covered only in a towel and offering a joke about current airline snafus. A minute or two later, his costume was transformed into a full suit of clothes. “The magic of theater [the intimate Elizabethan-styled stage] could also be the theater of magic,” he promised. Juggling, balloon-sculpture and sleight-of-hand tricks followed in rapid succession.

The magic theme played out in the cocktails offered beforehand — a combination of pineapple juice, coconut milk, cotton candy and two rums known was a “Mystical Colada” — and later in a dinner menu promising “Potions and Delights.” Strolling magicians and sprightly actors teased guests throughout, enhancing an atmosphere of playfulness and mystery.

Gala committee co-chair Ken Ludwig confessed that before becoming a playwright, he had been a magician in his high school days whose best trick was known as “duck in the hat.” His current professional “tricks,” he said earlier at the reception, include the opening next month in Houston’s Alley Theatre of his latest musical that has to do with the making of the 1951 film “An American in Paris.” He good-naturedly chided Paul Tetreault of the currently shuttered Ford’s Theatre about not being asked to create a play for Ford’s planned reopening next February.

The Folger raised an expected $325,000 for education outreach programs.

Ann Geracimos

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