I love watching magic shows and I love it when great magicians cheat on me. But I am also deeply skeptical. I love discovering the technical magic that goes into creating towers, devouring everything I can about how individual illusions are constructed and what it takes for those skills to be learned over time. There is a trick in The present, a new 70-minute work from the Geffen Playhouse and illusionist Helder Guimarães, which I will never be able to understand. And this is the one I participated in.
Currently sold out until August 16 The present was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic and the forced isolation that comes with it. It airs live eight times a week on Zoom to 25 households per broadcast, each receiving a mystery package in the mail several days prior. The contents of the box play a vital role in the experience and you cannot open it until Guimarães asks you to.
In his youth, Guimarães was subjected to a quarantine similar to the one we are experiencing now, after a car accident triggered a seizure that left him in a coma for several days. During his recovery, he was forbidden to leave his home, kept under the watchful eye of his grandfather. Forced into social distancing before it was cool and faced with the idea of mortality for the first time, Guimarães took refuge in learning parlor magic. The thrilling and confusing tricks performed between his tender monologues prove why the Portuguese-born talent was the youngest person to ever win the Magic Card World Championship.
For a live broadcast on the Internet, The present is a surprisingly smooth experience. Frank Marshall directs with a light touch; Catarina Marques’ camera work is remarkable. Guimarães himself is an affable but slyly deceptive host – he knows he’s going to screw you up, but he does it in such a modest way that you’re drawn into it without even realizing it. And when it does, it will have you jumping out of your seat with excitement.
I shy away from describing stuff, especially the one that required me to be on camera in full view of other viewers while having my mind blown at the same time (note to future viewers: be sure to wear pants so you don’t no need to scramble like I did when you are called unexpectedly). Before that, I thought magic, especially card tricks, worked better in person. There’s an immediacy of being in the same room, face to face with the performer, that doesn’t exist on digital video, even though you’re both live. It’s also easier to understand.
Corn The present made me change my mind. For my life, I just can’t get to the bottom of any of his tricks, especially the one I was asked to participate in, which required either telepathy or a lot of reconnaissance before the show (it’s was probably that option, but I still can’t figure it out). It is also the first time that I allow myself to give up my usual skepticism to lose myself in the pure pleasure of being duped.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that The present is the most fun I’ve had in all this time. A few days later, I still get goosebumps as I look at the evidence provided for me and only me in the mystery box. It makes my heart beat. It pisses me off endlessly. But it proves how amazing Guimarães is in his chosen career. I’m currently at the point where I think what he did was supernatural sorcery, and for once in my life, I just believe him.