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DARK SOCIAL SATIRE: Surreal fun is had in ‘Black Magic for White Boys’

Ah, there is nothing more satisfying than a good, dark piece of social satire. It’s hard not to love the central creative thesis behind Onur Tukel’s obsidian oddity, “Black Magic for White Boys.” What if an asshole real-estate developer got his hand on a book of spells that would allow him to get rid of pesky rent-controlled tenants or landowners not willing to sell their property. It’s a wonderfully insidious premise and just one aspect of this insanely entertaining comedic farce. 

Larry (Ronald Guttman) has been trying to get his magic act off the ground in an Off-off-Broadway theater to little fanfare. He learns, due to slow ticket sales and a lack of interest in renting the venue to other performers, that he could lose his beloved performance space. The show becomes a much bigger success when he decides to start introducing the dark arts to theater-goers, much to the chagrin of his wife who provides him with dire warnings of his reckless actions.

Oscar (Tukel) is a trust-fund baby who has lived his entire life consequence-free, thanks to choice real-estate holdings. He’s an arrogant, remorseless asshole with no redeeming qualities—a misguided misanthrope whose every instinct is self-serving and usually horrifying. He meets Chase (Charlie LaRose) and ends up entangled in a horrifying relationship of lies and deception,  ultimately leading to Oscar trying to find a way out. Yet, that’s difficult after Chase reveals she’s pregnant with his unborn child. 

His first forays into ending Chase’s pregnancy involve the use of his dealer/apothecary (Franck Raharinosy), who has his own kind of magic: pills that can take care of almost any malady. Unfortunately for Oscar, he also has a conscience, so when he realizes Chase wants to keep the fetus he refuses to complete the transaction. Fortunately, for Oscar, his only friend, greedy real-estate developer Jamie (Lou Jay Taylor), has discovered Larry’s real-life magic act and found some wonderful applications for making people disappear.

After striking a deal with Larry, Jamie begins to make his low-rent tenants vanish, allowing him to start raising prices and get extra-rich, thanks to the gentrification washing over Brooklyn and every other NYC borough. Soon enough, unruly renters and property owners are whisked away with an incantation and the wave of a black handkerchief. Oscar realizes he might be able to use this same trick to get rid of Chase’s unborn baby.

What I love about “Black Magic for White Boys” is how preposterous yet plausible the story feels. Tukel’s take on modern-day New York is rooted in reality but hyper-realized into absurdity. There are a number of characters and subplots woven into the story, including the romance of Larry’s magical assistants, which are interesting enough to fill out the story but never feel particularly necessary. 

Tukel has assembled a wonderful ensemble of performers who all have a great time engaging in these comedic shenanigans.  In spite of the story’s over-the-top elements, there are some great bits of satire. As in previous works, Tukel is more than willing to focus on characters beyond unlikable.  “Unlikable” might not be a strong enough word to describe Oscar and Jamie, but it’s their complete lack of a moral compass that makes their actions both fascinating and funny.

While not as tightly assembled as his earlier movies, there’s a lot to appreciate in “Black Magic for White Boys.” Tukel has created another solid, surreal story and sticks the landing on his supernatural set-up.

DETAILS:
Black Magic for White Boys
November 14, 3:45 p.m.
Thalian Ballroom, 301 Chestnut St.
November 17, 9:30 p.m.
Thalian Black Box, 301 Chestnut St.
Tickets: $15 •  cucalorus.org/film/black-magic-for-white-boys

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