Sleight of Heart: An Evening of Tales & Magic, City Lit Theater Company, at Chicago Cultural Center. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe not a magician. Everyone promises a new variation, but when it comes right down to it the tricks are pretty much the same. The key is finding a shtick that makes your act unique.

Unlike neovaudevillians, who skate by on cheeky attitude, or Ricky Jay, who succeeds through sheer talent and the brute force of his presence, Will Tremonte uses nostalgia as his hook. Part of the fourth generation of a family of magicians, Tremonte interweaves card and conjuring tricks with colorful memories of his forebears’ legerdemain and wonderfully evocative descriptions of life in Chicago’s Little Italy during the Depression. At their best, Tremonte’s tales have both the pungent wit and wistful longing of period pieces like Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs or Woody Allen’s Radio Days. One such story–in which Tremonte’s father fools his grandfather into thinking Benito Mussolini is addressing him directly over the radio–is positively delightful.

Tremonte’s jokes are often either dated or tacky, and his delivery is occasionally a bit too smooth. But as a magician he’s flawless. And he, cowriter Sandra Grand, and director Marc Silvia have effortlessly blended autobiography and old-fashioned magic show. There may be little here you haven’t seen before, but with reminiscences as richly detailed as these it hardly matters. –Adam Langer