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Review: A DEATH DEFYING ESCAPE at Hudson Guild Theater

Comic Magical Journey of Self-Realization at Hudson Guild

Review: A DEATH DEFYING ESCAPE at Hudson Guild Theater

The person in the audience brought up on stage during A DEATH-DEFYING ESCAPE, Judy Carter's autobiographical play with magic, was asked to identify the world's most famous female magician. "Can't name one," the poor idiot replied, supplying an answer that Carter was probably expecting and has heard many times before. "There are no famous female magicians," she states at one point in her performance.

OK, before we proceed, an admission. That audience member was me and I didn't actually volunteer. The Hudson Guild Theatre where ESCAPE is playing through May 15 seats about 43 people which means the audience is very close to the stage. Carter instructed me to help her out and - concerned that if I refused, I might be heckled, disappeared or transformed into a gecko - up I went. And even from a vantage point seated next to the magician, her card tricks were dazzling. After 40 plus years as a professional magician, the lady knows her tricks.

As the title suggests, prestidigitation factors heavily into ESCAPE, but it's by no means the performance's only draw. Carter is also a comedian, author, motivational speaker and a woman with a compelling personal story to tell. Directed by Lee Costello from a script by Carter, the 90-minute three-hander showcases Judy Carter as a talented performer and a deeply conflicted person who has navigated some bumpy terrain in her life. Not too shabby for a lady who was ousted from the Magic Castle because she was informed that "cards are for men."

Well, no they aren't. Carter, who developed an early fascination with magic, idolized Houdini and questioned why the only place in illusion for women was for scantily-clad, big-smiling magician's assistants whose job it was to get sawed in half. A go-getter and an entrepreneur practically from adolescence despite growing up with a speech impediment, Carter turned herself into, if not an outright star, certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Part of Carter's chutzpah-ish ambition stems from her family situation. Her beloved older sister, Marsha, has cerebral palsy; her father is an alcoholic. Her mother is mistreated by her father, but won't leave him. She and Judy's grandmother are supportive of Judy's choices...most of them anyway.

Carter mostly plays herself, the narrator of her journey, and also Marsha who is confined to a big ominous-looking chair from which kid sister Judy would like to magically liberate her. Judy also wants to put her mother back together and cause her father to disappear. Any or all of these feats would, she figures, ultimately validate Carter so that she would "no longer be Judy the retard. I'd be Judy the magician."

If Carter offers her journey as a series of escapes, it's also a reckoning. Out of the closet, but not particularly comfortable with it, Carter faces the possibility of finding love with Sam, a social media consultant who is a couple of decades her junior. As Sam, Lyndsi Larose is both spunky and the solid grounding force that a conflicted Carter badly needs. Larose is equally effective as Judy's loving mother and an icy hostess at a trendy Beverly Hills restaurant.

Also solid is the production's third performer, Kevin Scott Allen, whose roles include Judy's father and grandmother and - fittingly - a barely clad magician's assistant toward the performance's conclusion. As A DEATH DEFYING ESCAPE functions as both a story of self-realization and of a woman reaching heights in a decidedly male profession, Allen is careful not to steer Syd Carter, the playwright's dad and central into straw man territory.

Carter herself is likeability personified. Her one-liners - most of which are at her own expense - have the distinct flavor of Borscht Belt yuks. Her wisdom feels both genuine and well-earned and illusion-ally speaking, the lady's still got it. One suspects that in her separate careers as magician, motivational speaker and author, Carter is very good at her assorted professions. DEATH DEFYING ESCAPE affirms her skill as a playwright.

A DEATH-DEFYING ESCAPE performs through May 15 at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. For tickets and more information, visit https://deathdefyingescape.com/.

Photo of Judy Carter and Lyndsi LaRose by Jenny Graham

 



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