Nothing To Hide: Theater Review
The Geffen Playhouse (runs through Jan. 6)
Derek DelGaudio, Helder Guimarães
Neil Patrick Harris
Neil Patrick Harris directs two acclaimed young magicians at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
The secret of magic lies not in the trick but the effect. The “routine” disguises the simplicity of the fundamental tropes (things appear, disappear or change), elevating the routine into something magical. Showmanship inevitably trumps mere skill, however impressive. The true illusion is the context created within which the trick occurs.
The two young magicians in Nothing to Hide, Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães, cannily set up elaborate situations in which the old wine is poured from intricately minted bottles. Indeed, the backdrop of the set consists of ceiling-to-floor shelving on which rest more or less 800 (but who’s counting?) clear, sealed bottles -- each containing a pack of cards. Like Chekhov’s pistol, one of them is bound to be broken.
The extended opening is spellbinding. For the length of a silent film one-reeler, the two mime a competition in turning over cards in sequence by suit while punching a pair of chess clocks, a ballet with the dancers seated. No nuance in every possible variation goes unmilked, and the timing and precision of gesture amazes even more than the considerable dexterity. It’s satisfyingly constructed like a theatrical sketch, with a comprehensive development of motifs and musicianly sense of rhythm.
It’s also too contained to be sustained. When they subsequently launch into their act, addressing the audience, the show inevitably grows more prosaic, however complex the misdirection. One of the most lamentable errors of our culture is to mistake attitude for style. These guys have charm to go with their chops but it’s a cautious kind of grace, suspicious of cliché while in thrall to convention. (DelGaudio even references the classic a cappella “Fine and Dandy” melody immortalized by Art Metrano.)
If Penn and Teller were postmodern, these inevitably self-aware practitioners are post-Penn and Teller. They candidly eschew any hint of the phony, a historical hazard for magicians and a shibboleth of the contemporary sensibility. Yet their purposefully affectless manner gradually edges them toward the bland, so that by the end even their most spectacular gags mute to anticlimax.
DelGaudio is a locally based magician with an extensive involvement in conceptual and performance art projects, while Guimaraes, a Portuguese native, at 23 became the youngest-ever World Champion of Card Magic. The two partnered fortuitously earlier this year and quickly became a rage among the magic cognoscenti, culminating in this booking.
They benefit mightily from the sure, steady hand of director Neil Patrick Harris, himself President of the Academy of Magical Arts at the Magic Castle. As they acknowledge, the Audrey Skirball Kenis space at the Geffen Playhouse is at least double the ideal size for such an intimate display, but it is good enough to allow playing cards on a table to be at least as visible as any flea circus.
Venue: The Geffen Playhouse (runs through Jan. 6)
Cast: Derek DelGaudio, Helder Guimarães
Director: Neil Patrick Harris
Writer: Derek DelGaudio
Magic Choreography: Helder Guimarães
Artistic Director: Glenn Kaino
Set Designer: Dave Spafford
Lighting Designer: Adam Blumenthal
Music: Pedro Marques
Sundance: On the Scene