BWW Review: HOUDINI SPEAKS TO THE LIVING - Pure Magic
Hidden Room Theatre has a reputation for bringing life to the obscure and the unusual, they have once again struck gold with their latest endeavor. HOUDINI SPEAKS TO THE LIVING, an original work by director Beth Burns and Patrick Terry, brings the enigmatic magician to the stage with an interactive experience that is thrilling and certain to please.
Harry Houdini (Patrick Terry) is best known as an escape artist who achieved worldwide fame for his death defying feats, but it's his personal crusade to debunk so called clairvoyants and mediums that is the focus of this theatrical premier. As the twentieth century dawned, people were swept up in a fervor to communicate with the dearly departed. This fad reached a fever pitch after the horrifying casualties of WWI plunged families into mourning for a generation of young men so suddenly gone. Spiritualism brought all manner of charlatans out of the proverbial woodwork; the famous magician used his knowledge to expose their trickery. Houdini's unlikely friend, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Robert Matney), creator of Sherlock Holmes, shared an enthusiasm for spiritualism, but the writer did not feel the magician's scepticism. Unscrupulous hucksters used every trick in the book to induce grieving people that they are able to contact loved ones who had passed beyond the veil. Floating tables, spirit photography, ectoplasm, disembodied voices and a multitude of other tricks were employed in an effort to separate the unsuspecting public from their money. While Doyle wrote several books on the subject, Houdini was determined to unmask the tricksters and often attended seances in disguise. The fascinating relationship between these two men has intrigued historians for years and even sparked a television series Houdini and Doyle that aired last spring. Burns and Terry have used the letters and diaries of these two iconic men housed in the University of Texas' Ransom Center as the source material for their play. Their meticulous research culminates in a thrilling event presented at the York Rite Masonic Hall in downtown Austin.
Patrick Terry is magnetic as Houdini, performing astonishing magic, with the help of random audience members. His portrayal of one of the greatest men of his age is powerful and commanding. No less powerful is Robert Matney's Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. For all his intellect in creating the world's most famous detective, Doyle suffered unimaginable loss in his personal life and Matney gives us the grieving father and hopeful spiritualist in his sometimes raw, emotional performance. Director, Beth Burns uses the tennis court space masterfully, giving us both a lecture space and close up magic at its finest. If there is one complaint, it is that the one hour production is over far too quickly, leaving the audience wanting to spend more time in the presence of these larger than life characters.
I give HOUDINI SPEAKS TO THE LIVING my highest recommendation for excellent entertainment and outstanding performances. I cannot think of a better way to spend Halloween weekend than in the company of Houdini and Doyle.
Photos by Kimberly Mead
HOUDINI SPEAKS TO THE LIVING
by Beth Burns and Patrick Terry
Directed by Beth Burns
Hidden Room Theatre
York Rite Masonic Hall
311 W 7th, Austin
October 21 - 30, 8:00 PM
Special Performance October 31st at the Harry Ransom Center
Tickets: $15 - $30, hiddenroomtheatre.com
Running Time: 55 minutes with no intermission