What Magic Tricks Miss in True Amazement
“Back to Wonder” is an “immersive experience” by magician and storyteller Helder Guimarães. Limited to 15 people per performance, the show runs through June 18 in South Pasadena and aims to allow the viewer “to get a glimpse of their process and the world they live in.”
“Can you keep a secret?” launches the slogan.
You aren’t given the address of the location – hopefully that doesn’t give too much detail – from which you are transported in a vehicle with frosted windows to an undisclosed location with darkened windows.
Supposedly, we’re in the magician’s studio, but it all seems way too tidy and neat for a studio. Everything breathes the air of having a round door, or floor, or mirror.
For nearly an hour and a half, we witness messages that couldn’t have been sent, predictions that couldn’t have been made, and sleights of hand that couldn’t have been performed. .
“Breathtaking !” critics fuse. “Tremendous!” “Surprising!” “Incredibly beautiful!” “Amazing magic!” “Brilliant performer!” “Masterful!” “Gripping! “Really amazing!”
I try to keep my eyes on his hands, which seem to be in view at all times. Ah, he partly rolled up his sleeve! Wait, his palm was hidden for a second on the inside of a thigh! Is it possible for a human being to memorize the order of a whole deck of cards at a glance?
Are there assistants, I wonder, emerging from the walls, under the floor, from the cupboards, after we’ve moved from room to room? Were the other 14 audience members all plants? No, that wouldn’t make sense, even at $110 a pop he wouldn’t make any money.
As for the narration, Guimarães hits all the right notes: serious, sincere. He talks about his mother, his father, meeting his childhood idol. It evokes hours, months, years of work, of the desire for perfection.
But I’m not particularly impressed with his stories. I find it amazing that he can talk while performing his truly impossible stunts.
You receive a personalized note after the show: “My wish is that you do your best to keep all the secrets of our experience intact for future audiences, but please share its existence with your loved ones who you think , might appreciate it.
Understandable. But what secrets? He hadn’t shared anything of his own: not how he did his tricks, of course, and nothing about the state of his heart or his soul that he hadn’t told or wouldn’t tell any paying audience.
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I once read an article by the late magician Ricky Jay, a great story with a long story about going to a restaurant with a friend. He held the menu in front of him, then lifted it to reveal a block of melting ice. The way he told the story, the trick was an act of love that had taken years to perfect, stemming from a deep desire to instill in his friend a sense of mystery, delight and wonder.
This same desire clearly animates Guimarães, before whose mastery I bow. It is fascinating to contemplate the psychic constitution of the person for whom magic is a vocation. It is impossible to imagine the painstaking and impossibly long effort required to design and perfect his act.
During COVID-19, Guimarães managed to present via Zoom, as part of Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse “Stayhouse” series, a rave hit called “The Present” that sold out for each of its more than 250 shows.
At the same time, I can’t say that the performance I saw gave me a sense of wonder. I felt admiration. I felt curiosity. I felt gratitude, deep respect, for his dedication to his craft.
And I ruminated after the show about defining a secret. Is a secret, say, a password, that no one else knows? Is a secret a detail about, say, your daily routine that you would gladly share if someone asked you, but no one asks because no one really cares?
Is a secret a desire of your heart that you would hesitate to share because it reveals something about the most precious part of yourself? Is a secret something that weighs on your soul? It’s the kind of secret many of us are used to telling in confession.
It may be, in fact, that Catholicism ruins a person to marvel at a magic trick, so masterfully executed, striking, prodigious. Because something doesn’t resonate. A lathe does not vibrate. A trick involves a level of restraint, because to divulge how the trick works would be to ruin it. A magic trick is therefore a closed circuit. As an observer, you can only be an accessory, manipulated in some way, never a real participant.
What gives a sense of wonder? What transcendental mysteries involve us as full and passionate participants?
The Incarnation — God made man, come to live among us, to suffer by our side, to show us how to love. To be sacramentally absolved of our sins. Transubstantiation. Above all, the Eucharist.
As a follower of Christ, you will never have to wonder. If you stay close to mass, you never leave it.