Several years ago, before I began reviewing shows for the Northwest Herald, my wife and I saw a play at Chicago’s Chopin Theatre that told the story of Harry Houdini’s life while integrating some of his greatest tricks and escapes. The cast performed The House Theatre’s production of "Death & Harry Houdini" with audience members on both sides of the stage area, and the drama and magic, along with the proximity of those of us watching, combined to create an intimate, memorable night of entertainment.
The star of that play — magician/mentalist Dennis Watkins, who won a Jefferson Award in 2012 — is responsible for another intimate, memorable show: "The Magic Parlour," which reached a jaw-dropping 1,000th performance on Jan. 25 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago.
My wife and I were there, and our jaws were dropping several times as we were astounded at Watkins’ talent and sense of humor.
At most of Watkins’ 90-minute "Magic Parlour" shows, held multiple times on Fridays, Saturdays, and occasional holidays, a maximum of 44 audience members age 12 and older are let in, enabling all to have a prime view of close-up magic.
At the 1,000th show, there were about 90 of us, but one of the best things about the show was how many audience members were asked to be involved. For example, my wife was one of the first six audience members selected; she was asked to pick a number within a certain range to see if she’d be the closest one to a number Watkins had already selected. The closest would be allowed to hold a “magic envelope.”
Alas, it was another audience member who chose the closest number. As to the contents of that envelope, my lips — like that envelope — are sealed. Later in the performance, I was also picked to participate, getting the opportunity to yell “Huzzah!” when a certain part of one of the tricks was successfully executed.
Watkins involves the audience a lot because, as he puts it, “You are the true magicians.” When one audience member was holding a certain number of items between her hands, subsequently opening them to reveal that one item was no longer there, I began to believe that anything was possible, thanks to Watkins.
I won’t spoil the numerous surprises of The Magic Parlour, but Watkins does some amazing things with everything from string to playing cards to matchboxes to duct tape to a paperback book to several sharp objects. And even a very appropriate writing utensil: a MAGIC marker (one of many puns and one-liners Watkins sprinkled into his patter throughout the show).
"The Magic Parlour" has an open-ended run, but if you’ve never been one of the first 1,000 audiences, don’t wait to reserve tickets for this professional magic/mentalism show. Combine it with dinner at one of the nearby restaurants, and you have all the elements of a truly magical date night.
• Paul Lockwood is a past president of TownSquare Players (TSP) and an occasional community theater actor, appearing in over 30 plays, musicals, and revues since he and his wife moved to Woodstock in 2001. Recent shows include 42nd Street, Once Upon a Mattress, On Golden Pond, 9 to 5: The Musical, A Christmas Carol (2014, 2016), and Into the Woods.