This Zoom magic show delivers a box to your doorstep. Then it blows your mind.
Because I am committed now to believe that Guimarães is an alien landed among us to share his super power to blow the human mind. And because in the era of galloping transparency, a bit of theatrical mystery restores confidence in the essential art of exuberant deception.
I swear I won’t give you a clue as to the prestidigitative content of “The Present,” which comes from a room in the Guimarães apartment in Southern California. (His fiancée, Catarina Marques, operates the camera.) I also won’t divulge the contents of the brown box that ticket holders receive in the mail ahead of their scheduled performance — and are instructed not to open until show time. (The already-extended production, which began May 7, is sold out through August 16, but you can sign up on Geffen’s website to be notified of new dates.)
The box is absolutely essential to the interactive core of “The Present”. The fact that it stays so opaque on your desk for days adds temptation to the list of scratching itchiness. It is advisable to connect approximately 15 minutes before the designated virtual curtain time; since this is a west coast production, evening performances don’t start until 11 p.m. EST. Tickets are limited to 25 per show – enough tiles to fill a screen on Zoom in gallery view – but you can gather as many people around your computer as you like.
Guimarães, a bookish guy in his late thirties, summons “The Present” behind a table, surrounded by a few photos and other artifacts of magician culture – he is passionate about the history of magical performance. His charmingly accented English seasons his stage persona with a touch of the exotic: he looks a bit like Mandy Patinkin’s flowery Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.”
Before long, we are embarked on a story. (The most seductive magicians pull you in with their hands but hook you with their brains.) Guimarães’ story weaves in autobiographical details that include the recovery period after a childhood accident that he likens to a personal quarantine. An enigmatic grandfather who also dragged him into game factors in history. All the while, the tricks Guimarães performs become more and more delightfully confusing, even as the portrait of his relationship with his grandfather becomes ever clearer.
I watched for myself, but I was not alone. Or anyway, I didn’t feel alone. During one of the rare interludes of this strange and numbing isolation, I was drawn out of my solipsistic preoccupations and into someone else’s imaginative bedroom. And what a surprise oasis can be. The more complicated the trick and the incredible result, the more dizzy I feel. Experiencing exceptional magic isn’t about being fooled – it’s about grateful surrender. And the enchantment of a magician’s gift box in your mailbox.
Guimarães and his shrewd collaborator, director Frank Marshall, sometimes electronically mute the audience, unmuting someone when the magician randomly chooses their assigned number from a bowl, so they can help with a trick. .
But the glare engendered by a magic show needs a verbal outlet, and a performer deserves the return of a collective gasp. That’s why it’s gratifying to have the skilled person at Zoom’s controls open the switches for the hoots, giggles, and applause. All that Guimarães earns richly and stunningly.
The present, written and performed by Helder Guimarães. Directed by Frank Marshall. About 70 mins. Performances are sold out through August 16, but the theater advises registering at wapo.st/thepresenttix to receive notification when additional dates are added.