So how does a magician, heir to three generations of prestidigital art, tell us about his grandfather? In a magic show, of course, with card tricks, and circus clowns and spooky-tunes recalling Max Fleischer's funny-shivery cartoons. And who better to direct this fanciful memoir than Molly Brennan of the guignolesque 500 Clown?
Playwright: Dennis Watkins. At: House Theatre of Chicago at the Viaduct, 3111 N. Western. Phone: 773-251-2195; $17-$22. Runs through: Nov. 3
But The Magnificents is not just another slam-bang artsy-cutesy everything-and-the-kitchen-sink carnival from House Theatre of Chicago. At the heart of the slapstick and slippery-shuffle is playwright Dennis Watkins' elegy for his grandfather, who—like his counterpart in the play—schooled his descendants not only in the mechanics of their craft, but in the humility necessary for its proper practice.Read more story below....
Our milieu reflects the fin de siécle trappings associated with the golden age of legerdemain, a decor extended to the collage-animation dream-sequences, together creating an ambience reminiscent of E.T.A. Hoffmann. This motif is also reflected in The Old Man, who speaks with a surly German accent, while his wife communicates in a vaguely Eastern European double-talk ( much of their dialogue drawn from Watkins grandpére's actual words, if the playbill notes of Watkins petit fils—his persona, the silent orphan Boy apprenticed by the old couple—are to be believed ) .
And then there's the magic—not mere stunts, hurled into the action like bricks down a chimney ( except for a plodding second-act ballad conspicuously lacking in the delicate fancy preceding it ) —but integrated into the narrative, each one carrying its full share of the story, as when open-heart surgery is depicted as a sawing-in-half turn, and death comes in an Asrah levitation. Along with the enraptured Boy, we delve the mysteries of scarf-and-wand manipulation, and marvel at the ancient cup-and-ball switcheroo.
But we also gasp in alarm when The Old Man coughs red foam balloons; sigh in sentimental bliss when the clock is, literally, turned back for a courtship waltz by the aged lovers; and are inconsolable when a vanishing canary refuses to reappear, until its safe return. The Sparrow may be HTC's fall dazzler, but this small twinkling gem generates sufficient Ta-DA! to earn our attention.