by Samuel L. Leiter
Nearly three years ago I saw a magic show called Nothing to Hide, directed by Neil Patrick Harris and starring two master prestidigitators, an American named Derek DelGaudio, and a Portuguese, Helder Guimarães. DelGaudio is absent but Guimarães is back, in Verso, a one-magician enterprise at New World Stages. Nothing to Hide was just right at a little more than an hour’s running time; Verso, however, even with only a single performer, stretches things to nearly two hours, a bit excessive for this kind of parlor game show.
Guimarães achieves some astonishing sleight of hand; those who saw his earlier show will recognize some material in only slightly adapted form. His illusions, most requiring volunteers, are largely of the playing card variety (there’s also a great one focused on unlocking a cellphone); he is, after all, the youngest competitor (at 23) to be crowned World Champion of Card Magic.
His feats are tied together by amusing, Portuguese-accented patter; some of it is autobiographical, with borderline pretentious commentary about choice, chance, honesty, truth, and the intuitive side of logic. Drawing attention to his own legerdemain, he makes sure to remind us that what we see isn’t necessarily what we think we see. Occasionally, he makes a slipup; don’t be fooled. Apparent mistakes may help humanize him but every second is calculated.
Verso, directed by Rodrigo Santos, uses a fairly elaborate background, designed by Catarina Marques, of numerous slatted, wooden, produce crates piled in a decorative jumble, each with a small lantern light inside, and many containing small props. Lighting designer Pedro Vieira de Carvalho uses a fairly complex lighting plot to set the playful mood, which is further enhanced by Pedro Marques’s music.
In one of the first routines performed by this bespectacled conjurer in a gray, three-piece business suit, he selects five spectators by having the audience toss a stuffed ducky around at random; asks them to stand as he passes a well-shuffled deck of cards from one to the other; has each place a card in their pocket, remembering what it was; chats amiably with them about various personal trivia; asks a few innocuous questions about the cards’ colors or suits; and then correctly identifies each card. Things get even trickier afterward but I’ll desist from further descriptions to avoid spoiling the surprises.
You may have seen these or similar tricks before, but If you’re a sucker for a clever magician’s wiles and like the kind of intimate, lightly comic, informative, one-on-one style of a Ricky Jay, Helder Guimarães will serve you well. And when he does his final trick, a multidimensional one that defies explanation, you’ll know why I’ve titled this review “surreal.”
New World Stages
340 W. 50th St., NYC
Through January 15, 2017
Samuel L. Leiter is Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Theater) of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has written and/or edited 27 books on Japanese theater, New York theater, Shakespeare, and the great stage directors. For more of his reviews, visit Theatre’s Leiter Side (www.slleiter.blogspot.com).