Thoughts behind the magic in ‘A Simulacrum’ at NYC’s Atlantic Stage 2

According to the program notes, Atlantic Theater Company’s limited-engagement world-premiere Stage 2 production of A Simulacrum, written by Tony Award nominee Lucas Hnath with theater artist and illusionist Steve Cuiffo and directed by Hnath, was assembled from tape recordings of their 2021-22 workshops in a rehearsal studio on East 15th Street, where the metatheatrical show is set. Its distinctive format, with Cuiffo appearing live on stage and the unseen Hnath heard speaking to him on tape (an audio device previously employed in Hnath’s Dana H., on which Cuiffo served as illusion and lip-sync consultant), is the eponymous simulacrum (a representation or imitation, implicitly unsatisfactory) of their collaborative developmental process. But it also considers the real thoughts, motivations, and feelings behind the façade of magic that are exposed in their revealing personal conversations, in Hnath’s signature thought-provoking style.

Steve Cuiffo. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

As requested by Hnath, the astonishing Cuiffo, alone on the stage, shows him – or more accurately us, since he’s not physically there now (though he was during the four days of recorded workshops) – some magic tricks, first setting them up, reading about them from books by legendary illusionists, explaining the amount of practice that went into them, and occasionally disclosing how they’re done. The intimate space of Stage 2’s black box theater brings the audience up close to the sleight-of-hand artistry, making it all-the-more amazing that Cuiffo is able to fool our eyes and confuse our psyches time and time again, with a range of card tricks, mind-boggling illusions with cups and balls, a newspaper, rubber bands, metal rings, a doll in a suitcase, and more.

He does it all while acting and responding completely in sync with Hnath’s voice-on-tape, taking notes, pondering the questions he’s asked and the prompts he’s given, moving around the stage, and retrieving the necessary props from a table on the side, slowly and deliberately, without missing a beat or losing focus on the legerdemain at hand that is so much a part of him. His performance is low key but engaging, charming, and unequivocally devoted to his artistic passion, which, we learn, began in childhood, earned him money since the age of ten, conjures memories of his family, raises questions about the attitudes of his wife and son  towards the illusionary feats he creates, refines, and presents, and leaves him considering what he loves and what he doesn’t about his chosen career, under the probing of Hnath. It’s an increasingly human and telling exploration of the inner workings of the artist, as much as it is of his magic, as seen in his eloquent facial expressions and body language.

Steve Cuiffo. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

A simple scenic design by Louisa Thompson recreates the look and feel of a workshop studio, with the requisite props by Matt Carline, and casual everyday costumes by Qween Jean that are also suited to the illusions Cuiffo chooses to perform (donning a jacket as a literal elucidation of what he’s got “up his sleeve”). They are enhanced by timely shifts in lighting by Tyler Micoleau and Mikhail Fiksel’s all-important sound – a simulacrum of their live in-person meetings.

In the end, the wonderment of Steve Cuiffo’s illusions is not just about how he does it, but why he does it. You have till July 9 to find out, in this intriguing new work at Atlantic’s Stage 2.

Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, including a brief pause.

A Simulacrum plays through Sunday, July 9, 2023, at Atlantic Theater Company Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $77-97, plus fees), go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.


  1. Atlantic Theater Company has announced a one-week extension of A Simulacrum, now playing through Sunday, July 9, 2023.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here