I’m always fascinated by seeing a magic show in a venue that usually does theater - like the latest show in the Geffen Playhouse’s smaller space “Invisible Tango.”
To satisfy the audience, the magic tricks need to amaze but you also need to create a narrative that goes beyond magician’s patter. More than simply setting up the tricks and charming an audience, the narrative needs to make sense of the evening.
In “Invisible Tango” that magic and narrative is being crafted by Helder Guimarães. The magic is mostly a theme and variation on card manipulation and increasing elaborate versions of “is this your card?” In the intimate theater that’s configured to focus on a simple card table, the action is close enough to be dazzling and big enough to feel like more than a single trick.
The narrative starts off a little bumpy, literally beginning with a car accident. At first, this itself feels a little accidental or perhaps incidental. Here’s our nattily dressed magician/narrator speaking through his Portuguese accent telling us about his car accident in LA. It’s easy to dismiss the story with an LA smugness: oh, a car accident story, how LA. It feels almost clumsy as a way in - but stick with it. It’s really the first plot point in our narrative arc and like so much about this show it will accumulate and begin to pay off the more the piece evolves.
The story that begins to reveal itself is a bit of mystery surrounding a antique notebook that our protagonist becomes fixated on. In between card tricks, we pick up little hints, little clues. The question that’s lurking behind both the tricks and the narrative have to do with identity and agency. Said more simply, who are you and what makes you do what you do? Do you get to pick that card or choose that career? Or are you simply being manipulated by the subtle cues around you.
The show is at its strongest when these two narratives link up: when the mystery of the narrative and the mystery of the cards begin to resonate with one another; when an audience’s need to solve the narrative intersect with our need to understand how that magic trick works. The show is on surer footing when it comes to card tricks rather than dramaturgical ones but there are enough ‘oh, wow’ moments on both fronts to make it a great evening.
And, if you go into this magic show primed to be both dazzled by cards and reflect on why you choose what you choose - then you’ll leave the 80 minute show with more than a fun, light evening of entertainment.
“Invisible Tango” plays at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood through June 30th.
For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre