The House Theatre at the Viaduct (see Fringe and storefront). By Dennis Watkins. Dir. Molly Brennan. With Watkins, Carolyn Defrin, Marika Mashburn, Tommy Rapley, Michael E. Smith, Stephen Taylor.
Orange, lemon, egg, canary is a magic trick in which an orange is peeled to reveal a lemon, and that fruit holds an egg, from which a canary finally emerges. The Magnificents not only hinges on this trick, but is as astonishing and simple—perhaps too simple. Whether or not the House’s latest fantastic voyage—inspired by Watkins’ grandfather, a real-life magician who taught his grandson the art form—is an actual play is beside the point; the company bills this story of the last days of an aged magician as a “magical clown show.” And there’s plenty of both magic and clowning, propelled by the expert pratfalls and timing of a trio of many-hatted clowns (Defrin, Smith, and Taylor), sensitive and whimsical direction by Molly Brennan of 500 Clown, and the impressive magic by Watkins and Rapley. And not cheesy Copperfield illusions or trendy Criss Angel mindfreaking, but card tricks, canaries, cups and balls, and the old getting sawed in half.
The Magnificents could be faulted for shallowness: Dialogue is thin—the magician’s bustling wife (Mashburn) speaks in a cute amalgamation of what seems to be French, German and birdsong, and a young boy (Rapley) who arrives on their doorstep is mute—and there’s no deep excavations of character. But, then, you don’t see a House show for O’Neill-caliber psychology, but for spectacle and hearts on sleeves, here powered by the thrill of creating and believing in illusion. Magic, the old man instructs the boy, allows spectators to “live in their imaginations for one brief moment.” And at a time when we can Google the practice behind illusion, that moment is priceless.—Megan Powell