Birdman and the Idiot President

Part of the charm of the movie "Birdman" is its suggestion that humans can be magic. You might be arguing with your teenage daughter one minute and flying above Manhattan the next, or levitating or causing cars to explode at the snap of your fingers. Of course the magic is fickle. Birdman had to walk around in his underwear when he couldn't get inside the theatre he inadvertently locked himself out of. Still...
Imagination set him free at his darkest moment.

Daniel Alarcon, in At Night We Walk in Circles, also uses theatre and the magic of transformation onstage and off. His novel follows the actors in The Idiot President, a show that is touring far flung communities in the Andes, who often fall into the roles that were written for the characters they play, the idiot president, his idiot son, and the servant. Patalarga plays the servant and when Diciembre, the theatre company, arrives in his home village his mother asks him, "if you're putting most of the money into this, why are you playing the servant?"

The boss, playwright and idiot president himself, Henry Nunoz, says "The role comes so naturally to him. It would be a shame to use his talents any other way."

Nelson, who plays the idiot son, ends up acting the part of an "actual" old woman's lost son just because she perceives him to be her boy. The mother's other son pays Nelson to do it to keep her happy in her final days.

Magic realism plays with possibility. If you're playing Birdman, can't you be Birdman? If a woman happens to think you're her son, isn't it possible to become her son? Magic is the power of the imagination. People turn to magic when they are most desperate, about to jump off a building in Birdman's case, and trying to avoid the knowledge that her youngest son is dead in the other.

In another novel, Joy of Man's Desiring a character called Bobi wanders into a silent valley where the residents are afflicted with the leprous malaise experienced by wintry souls in a wintry land. Bobi asks a farmer about his grain. Winter is nearly over and the farmer still has a third of his crop. He has used a third to feed his family, saved a third to sow for the next year. He is thinking of selling the rest. The Ouvèze Valley has been still, no birds at all until Bobi convinces the farmer to spread his remaining grain on the threshing floor. Then, do they ever come! The way Jean Giono describes the various species and their hues and the movement of their wings it's as if someone has scattered a basket of multicoloured sequins on the bleached grain. Such beauty and the awe it inspires in people who thought they would never feel such awe again is a sort of magic realism in itself. Imagine.