Who Are You, Really?

“In & Of Itself” Explores the Impact of Identity, Perception, and Magic

For this month’s last post on the theme of love, I wanted to discuss and recommend the film, In & Of Itself, on Hulu. It’s described as “an intimate and powerful exploration of what it means to be and be seen,” which I would argue is at the core of love, in this case, self-love. Derek DelGaudio, the creator of this unique one-man show, seeks to find an answer to the question, “Who am I?” and manages to do so through a series of vignettes in which he recounts portions of his own life interspersed with segments of audience participation.

The film, which started off as a theatrical show produced and performed in New York City before the pandemic, tackles the issue of identity in new, intriguing, and often emotional ways, and left me feeling a bit raw by the end. I went into this experience blind, which, looking back now, was probably for the best. Knowing too much at the start would have taken away from the many magical moments that happen throughout and, as with so many things these days, would have probably made me more cynical. Instead, I came in without expectations and was rewarded with a powerful performance by DelGaudio that stuck with me long after the hour and a half was up; one that I’m sure I will think about for years to come.

At its core, the show forces its audience to consider themselves beyond the generic, prescribed, and superficial categories that society is so eager to throw them into for convenience's sake. When asked the question, “who are you?” a typical response might be one’s name, followed by their occupation, but what does that really say about them? DelGaudio pushes the question. A job title is a simplified approximation of a much bigger picture. Surely, “nurse” doesn’t begin to detail what that job entails, the schooling required to be qualified, or the qualities a person themselves must possess to endure it, let alone be good at it. So, is this how we’re meant to think of ourselves? As something that can be summed up in a single word? And what does that word mean to others when they hear it? How do we fit into society based on this word, and how are we treated? How one presents outwardly and how they might feel on the inside are often contradictory. How do we reckon with this where identity is concerned?

What we spend most of our lives doing isn’t necessarily what should define us as a whole, right? Because it’s not the sole thing that determines our worth and value in this world, is it? It’s not the thing by which we should measure ourselves against others, is it? But more often than not, it is how we think of ourselves, it does define how we function and are consequently treated in this life, and it inevitably affects our own perceptions of identity. These ideas, among others, are explored and questioned throughout the show, and to put it bluntly, it’s a bit of a mind fuck, although one that feels aptly timed in today’s overly-stimulated, face-paced, pressure-cooked world. Who in the actual hell am I?

I was engaged with this concept from the word go. At the start of the show, audience members were asked to pick a card from a wall with the words, “I am…” on it. The cards were filled with everything from, “I am a father” to “I am an author” to “I am a visionary,” and everything in between, and they forced people to be realistic, idealistic, self-important, or self-deprecating, when deciding how they saw themselves, ultimately choosing a card that would define them, at least for the remainder of the show. When asked to reveal their cards later on, an exceptional vulnerability was exposed, unlike anything I’ve seen in recent years. What was more, was how much it came across through the physical and spatial barrier of my screen. I found myself envious having not been able to witness the impact in person.

A significant focal point of the show is magic and perception. DelGaudio, a former magician, performs tricks throughout, even devoting an entire vignette to card tricks and sleight of hand. But the most impressive and moving trick of all in my opinion came toward the end when DelGaudio invites an audience member on stage and asks them to pick out a letter from a pile, which they are then asked to read aloud. The person quickly realizes that the letter they’re reading is from someone they know—their father, friend, coworker, partner, daughter, etc.—and that it’s personalized for them. The reader is often brought to tears, as this occurrence is completely unexpected and again, we’re shown the extraordinary vulnerability of which humans are capable. These letters are meant to illustrate to the reader that beyond the identity card they may have chosen when they walked in, someone else in their life sees them another way, and with that, another layer of identity is exposed. I won’t explain too much more about this part, because if you haven’t seen it, it’s really something.

Okay… but how does this all relate to love, you might be asking? To me, love could not be more at the center of what this show is all about. I think real acceptance of identity, even choosing that identity, means loving every aspect of yourself. I think it’s understanding and being okay with the fact that how you see you and how others see you may not be the same, but it’s not your responsibility to make that happen, because who fucking cares? Your experiences, preferences, opinions, talent, creativity, resourcefulness, knowledge, kindness, and spirit, among so many other things, make your identity what it is, and when you think about it like that, how can you expect anyone to see you the way you see yourself?

At the end of the day, you choose how you see yourself, whether it’s based on your job, your hobbies, your personality, what you’ve created, what you dream about… Despite your flaws, bad habits, mistakes, shortcomings, failures, etc., because those are all part of your identity too, you are you, you are unique, and conceivably, you’re doing your best with what you have. We all have something to contribute, something to learn, some role to play in this life, and it’s not going to be the same as anyone else. Believing in that, in a nutshell, is part of the bigger picture: self-love, which might just be the most important love there is.

In & Of Itself is streaming on Hulu right now.

Just another movie-obsessed writer with a lot of opinions.