By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
A telling admission in Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' magic show Nothing to Hide, at the Geffen Playhouse through Jan. 6, is that shows such as this should be antiquated by now. One of them comes right out and says it: We already live in an era of technological magic, so how can card tricks possibly compete?
Apps on an Android phone tell us in the blink of an eye which roads are clogged and which are open, or how many parking spaces are available on Hollywood Boulevard, or the best Italian or Chinese restaurant nearby. If your Houdini Siberian Husky breaks out the back window, a "Tagg" GPS dog tracker will send you timed reports with a map showing the dog's location.
In such an age, what could possibly motivate people to fight crosstown traffic in order to sit in the dark, among strangers, and watch two men playing with pieces of paper — an entertainment from another century? It's like going to a carnie show, without even the macabre glee that carnie shows used to offer. And yet, under Neil Patrick Harris' direction, the show flows like silk.
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By the same token, what could possibly motivate people to sit in a downtown theater for six and a half hours — not including two intermissions and a 75-minute dinner break — to watch actor Scott Shepherd in Gatz read almost the entire, unedited text of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby? (For a brief interlude, Susie Sokol takes over the narration.) The audacity of it is one of the production's many (too many) jokes.
Yet John Collins' epic staging is ultimately magnificent. It's now at REDCAT through the weekend, created and performed by the New York City–based experimental theater company Collins leads, Elevator Repair Service. Shepherd is joined by an ensemble of 12 who, in the context of a dreary, 1980s-era stockroom, containing decrepit couches and swivel chairs, battered desks and file cabinets, drift in and out of portraying Fitzgerald's cast of characters as narrated by Shepherd, himself playing an office drone with time on his hands (and ours) since his desktop computer is on the fritz.
With their very different styles and purposes, both performances stand united in defiance against the constant din about dinosaur enterprises being driven to their graves by inexorable technological "advancements."
For example, we're told that audiences now have shorter attention spans than ever. There was no evidence of that at REDCAT. Fewer than half a dozen patrons left the overflow theater after dedicating eight hours and 30 minutes to this performance, despite languid stretches of one man simply reading from a book. Audience members ranged in age from 20 to 80.
We're told that people no longer need to read books, at least in print. Tell that to Ann Patchett, whose successful new indie bookstore in Nashville recently landed her on the cover of The New York Times and in The Atlantic magazine. Landlords initially refused her a lease because they thought a store selling print books would fail. But it hasn't failed at all.
Tell that to Aaron Kushner, the ambitious new owner of the Orange County Register, who's spent hundreds of thousands of dollars beefing up his papers' newsrooms, because he believes that the decimation of print newspaper resources has been unprofitable folly, and that further decimation is not the wave of the future, as conventional wisdom would have it, but of the past.
It could turn out that when hedge-fund managers aren't making suffocating demands of financial return on already profitable businesses, old-world bookstores and newspapers and stage productions have a fighting chance. This is at least suggested by the packed houses and standing ovations for both Nothing to Hide and Gatz. Each show taps into a humane and primal delight that might be regarded as anachronistic but is actually timeless. Each show reminds us that we're bonded less by social media than by the common air we breathe when we're all together in one room, or by the beauty of a story well told, even if it's reflectively, languorously told.
There's little point dwelling on the amazement generated when DelGaudio and Guimarães stylishly shuffle a single deck of cards, split the deck, then lay them out silkily on opposite sides of a card table in perfect numerical sequence. The beauty of their 70-minute show lies as much in the rapport between them, a cooperative/competitive edge reminiscent of the gently winking humor in CBS' old The Smothers Brothers Show. That rapport extends to the audience. When DelGaudio needs an audience member to select a card from his deck, he finds a patron in the front row and asks him, ever so politely, "Sir, you look bored as shit. Can you help me out?"
In poking fun at what constitutes "mystery," DelGaudio folds a secret card and places it in a container onstage. He goes into the audience and has a patron shuffle, then select a card at random from a deck he's holding. ("Looks like you've done this before," DelGaudio remarks.) He then unfolds the secret card and, of course, it matches the card selected by the patron. "Now that you've seen this card, that experience can never be repeated," he declares with stoic solemnity.