Ed Ellis and Bob Kubota, who do card tricks, do them in the same way that Vincent van Gogh, who did paintings, did sunflowers: masterfully. They pull cards out of the air and link rubber bands with the same elegance and verve that van Gogh brought to his brush; with the same innovation that makes "Sunflowers," after a thousand tired references, more than just a dorm-room poster. They're also engaging and funny -- Kubota, besides being a magician, is a professional standup -- and smooth without being slick. At $10, their show is a bargain. If there's a better display of artistic competence at that price, it's not in Phoenix; it's at the Met.
"People like our shows because they feel like they've been entertained with an art form, not tricked," said Kubota. "We do try to keep it as an art form."
Kubota and Ellis had distinguished independent careers before combining their respective shticks: "sleight-of-hand beyond belief" and "world's fastest hands." They still tour individually, but they both live in the Phoenix area, so they devote special focus to their local, joint performances. It's a rare collaboration: Most up-close magicians work alone, and few can match either Ellis or Kubota for talent.
But what really distinguishes their performances is their dress code. Without exception, they wear short sleeves. This is both a gimmick and a form of self-discipline; it's also just plain practical.
"In Phoenix," observed Kubota, at the close of the hottest September on record, "you don't want to wear sleeves anyway."
If Phoenix weather works to their unexpected advantage, so do Phoenix audiences, who according to Ellis are less "jaded" than their L.A. counterparts. Enthusiasm here is high for a trend just being discovered: Going to magic shows, he said, "is culturally a very hip thing to do.