Geva Theatre Presents the World Premiere of THE MAGICIAN'S DAUGHTER
Geva Theatre continues its 2019 run of debuts (Brent Askari's Hard Cell opened earlier this month) with a world premiere that is witty, heartfelt, self-aware, and does a full autopsy on the dynamics of the modern father-daughter relationship. Lila Rose Kaplan's The Magician's Daughter is a masterful new work from a playwright with a unique voice, and its world premiere couldn't be timelier.
The show opens with a fourth wall-breaking magic show featuring Prospero (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Miranda (Brittany Bellizeare), a magician and his assistant whom we quickly learn also happen to be father and daughter. The show briefly weaves their hokey parlor tricks between tense familial bickering, until Miranda quits and storms off stage. As the show progresses Miranda examines the flaws and machinations of her father with the audience, as Prospero takes the form of a teacher, tax man, drag queen, and finally as the sick bed-ridden man that he's become later in life. The last third (or so) of the show is the real red meat of The Magician's Daughter, as Miranda and Prospero spar over his influence on her life, his shortcomings as a father, and his inability to accept that he's an alcoholic. Prospero's constant platitudes combined with his ability to treat and talk to Miranda like a child create an effect in which Miranda almost seems to be conversing with the ghost, or memory, of her father throughout the show.
The Magician's Daughter somehow manages to strike a seemingly-impossible dynamic: to be both layered and minimalist. Featuring just two actors (Bellizeare and Mitchell Henderson, both Geva first-timers), a simple set, and no intermission, The Magician's Daughter explores motherhood, parenting, pregnancy, gender norms/expectations, addiction, and mental health. That seemingly-dreary thematic buffet is actually anything BUT dreary, because it comes to life through the performances of these magnificent actors, but also a script that approaches these issues head-on with brutal honesty, sarcasm, and humor.
The word "brutal" isn't used accidentally; these themes aren't hinted at or danced around, they are confronted by the ferocity of Bellizeare's Miranda, who is a force to be reckoned with on stage, and Henderson's Prospero, whom the audience manages to equally loathe and love as he dances between acts of tenderness and cruelty, a relic of antiquity who hasn't lost his wit. These two actors deliver truly brilliant performances, no easy feat in a show of this pace and tonal dynamics.
It's no accident that the two characters of The Magician's Daughter are Prospero and Miranda, also the names of the father and daughter from Shakespeare's The Tempest, a play with central themes of forgiveness and repentance in which Prospero plots to restore Miranda to her rightful place using magic and manipulation. Though Prospero plays many characters in The Magician's Daughter, the most important role he plays is that of a magician, because to children all fathers are magicians. Not necessarily the kind that conjure birds from hats or coins from behind ears, but the kind that seem to have all the answers and that uncanny ability to explain impossibly difficult things. This dynamic is at the center of The Magician's Daughter, as Miranda struggles to make sense of how her father could have such a profound impact on her life but also be so deeply flawed, overbearing, belittling, and often even toxic. In addition to the myriad of issues this show tackles (gender, sexism, addiction) the conflict of The Magician's Daughter demonstrates the gravitational pull and unconditional love of parents better than any other show in recent memory.
The Magician's Daughter is emotional, funny, and raw, one of the best new plays I've seen in years. I sincerely hope Kaplan is the template for all emerging playwrights, and that Geva Theatre stages more of her works in the years to come.