'Invisible Tango': Theater Review

Invisible Tango Production Still - Publicity - H 2019
Jeff Lorch
Sleight-of-hand savant deals bewildering deck.

Veteran producer Frank Marshall and illusionist Helder Guimarães reflect on mystery and magic in a deck of cards in this new one-man show at the Geffen Playhouse.

There are magicians and there are prestidigitators, though the latter is just a fancy word for the former. Helder Guimarães calls himself a magician, but his new show, Invisible Tango, is a rumination on the nature of mystery with acts of prestidigitation. In the console that constitutes scenic designer François-Pierre Couture's sparse backdrop, there are a vinyl record collection and turntable, a metronome, a false set of Allied spy codes from World War II, a clock, artwork and a bottle of liquor, all of which are incorporated into Guimarães' engaging and confounding one-man show.

Along with card tricks, there's a sort of story to Invisible Tango as Guimarães recalls his first car accident in Los Angeles. While he was traversing a narrow surface street, a woman opened her driver-side door before he could hit the brakes. "Everything happens for a reason," she told him, leaving him wondering, "Does it?" It's not a question Guimarães pursues in his show. Instead, he investigates a mysterious notebook belonging to a man named Max Malini acquired from a Buenos Aires antique shop. 

Guimarães, casually dressed in jacket and blue jeans, has a soft Portuguese accent and nerdy demeanor that add to his charm. Even up close, it's nearly impossible to catch him palming cards or dealing from the bottom of the deck, making his work all the more impressive. To transcend the limits of his medium, the tricks take on a higher level of complexity, demanding greater-than-usual attention and upping the wow factor.

The magician has built an enviable niche for himself, beginning with his 2013 duet, Nothing to Hide, with fellow illusionist Derek DelGaudio, directed by Neil Patrick Harris at the Geffen in 2012-13 and followed by an extended off-Broadway run. After that came a one-man show, the sold-out Borrowed Time, which took place in a secret location where he performed for audiences no larger than 15. In 2016, another show of card tricks, the off-Broadway Verso, directed by Rodrigo Santos, may have seemed like too much of a good thing, but it was enough to land him a gig training Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett for their sleight of hand in the movie Ocean's 8.

Making his stage directorial debut is veteran producer Frank Marshall, who, with partner and spouse Kathleen Kennedy, has produced some of Hollywood’s biggest titles, including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. In recent years, Marshall has dabbled in Broadway producing, adding Big Fish and Doctor Zhivago to his credits, along with Escape to Margaritaville, currently on tour. His work here seems to involve technical notes regarding music and lighting cues around Guimarães' roster of card tricks. Original compositions by Moby are mainly incidental, leaning less on the 1990s techno sound associated with the artist and more heavily on later ambient recordings.

In the end, we never learn whether everything happens for a reason, as Guimarães was blithely told after his fender-bender. In fact, the setup, notebook and chitchat about mystery seem aimed at convincing audiences that they aren't just watching card tricks but are engaged in something headier. They aren't. Call it magic or prestidigitation, there is little need to qualify the magician's skill with pseudo-intellectual claptrap. Helder Guimarães does card tricks, and he does them better than anyone else. For audiences that demand the best in that field, look no further.

Venue: Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles
Cast: Helder Guimarães
Director: Frank Marshall
Music: Moby and The East Side Jazz Monkeys
Set designer: François-Pierre Couture
Lighting designer: Elizabeth Harper
Sound designer: Alex Hawthorn
Presented by Geffen Playhouse, Madeline and Bruce Ramer