#143. In 2002, I was a barista at Seattle’s Best. It was my *creative writing years.* The coffee shop was ideal because I got insurance and free coffee. I did the morning shift with my fave coworker, Dr. Krohl. We became acquainted with this guy named Nathan and his trolley driving friends. They were trying to start a theatre company. We gave them free Rice Krispie treats. It was our way of supporting the arts. And so when their show opened, my friend James went with me to the inaugural production of DEATH AND HARRY HOUDINI. We sat on the floor at the old Live Bait Theatre to be amazed. Fast forward to 2012...
The House Theatre of Chicago presents DEATH AND HARRY HOUDINI. Erik Weisz’ father dies. Weisz becomes fixated with death. He turns to magic for solace. His mentor dies. Now, Erik is obsessed with defying death. He transforms into Harry Houdini. He challenges himself to become the greatest magician in the world. During his life, the Great Escape Artist was shackled, straitjacketed, and tortured. And The House brings those spellbinding acts to life. DEATH AND HARRY HOUDINI is a marvel!
Playwright and director Nathan Allen anchors his biographical tribute around Houdini’s arrogance and determination to cheat death. The premise is a fascinating notion. Allen uses a vaudeville style showcase to chronicle Houdini’s life and tricks. The story is told with music, dancing, comedy and of course... magic! Dennis Watkins is Houdini! Sorcery aside, I’m impressed with Watkins‘ physicality. This isn’t a two bit magic show just about card tricks. Watkins is suspended upside-down from the very high ceiling...a couple times! And not only does he continue to hold conversations in this position, he is also completely submerged into a phonebooth-style water tank (Chinese Water Torture Cell). WTF? I’ve seen Watkins in his Friday night gig, Magic Parlour at the Palmer House. I knew he was magical. I didn’t realize he might be insane. The escape artistry is edge-of-your-seat-hold-your-breath transfixing. When I could see Watkins right-side-up and smiling at the curtain call, my fists finally unclenched so I could thunderously applaud. Who do you think you are, Watkins? Houdini? AMAZING!
The only speed bump that I had with this lively and highly entertaining show was some audio issues. The performers double as the band. During many of the first act musical interludes, the band overpowered the singing. I couldn’t hear the lyrics. In the second act, the barbershop quartet (Abu Ansari, Johnny Arena, Shawn Pfautsch, Kevin Stangler) was outstanding. A special nod out to Marika Mashburn for being a hysterical *stink-eye* mama.
Ten years later, this production is still an astonishing feat. Ta-Da! And the highly successful DEATH AND HARRY HOUDINI has been extended through mid August. You should see it before it disappears.
Celebrating our theatrical anniversary, James describes it with ‘The Perfect Escape.’
Running Time: Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Written and directed by Nathan Allen
Magic by Dennis Watkins
Composed by Kevin O’Donnell
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays at 7:30pm
Some Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Thru August 17th
Buy Tickets at www.thehousetheatre.com