Chicago Theater Review: THE MAGIC PARLOUR (The House Theatre at The Palmer House Hilton Hotel)

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by Paul Kubicki on July 9, 2012

in Theater-Chicago


I had one reservation headed into The House Theatre of Chicago’s The Magic Parlour: almost every magic show I had ever been to has been obnoxiously showy, laughably cheap, or both. I grew up seeing magicians at birthday parties, went to magic shops and learned card tricks, and even saw David Copperfield in the nineties. As a result, I tend to avoid magic shows altogether. It came as a great surprise, then, that The Magic Parlour was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of THE MAGIC PARLOUR in ChicagoDennis Watkins’ one-man show is fresh, quirky, and charming enough to overcome even the most cynical attitudes toward magic. He found the little kid in me and dragged him out to sit excitedly in the first row, audibly in awe of each trick and guffawing at each of his endearingly corny jokes. Watkins is a highly charismatic performer, an unrivaled magician, and just a hell of a lot of fun. I can’t decide whether I will go to any magic shows after The Magic Parlour now that I’ve been converted, as I’m not sure any could follow this one.

The evening begins in Potter’s Lounge, a bar on the first floor of the Palmer House where the audience is invited to grab a drink and hang out for about a half an hour. Then, everyone is escorted up to a small private venue, where soft drinks, beer, and wine are available. There are some tables in the front, and behind those are several rows of chairs. I was seated at a table, but I suppose visibility for those seated in the back is somewhat limited. Watkins invites anyone to stand if at any point they can’t quite see. The exceptionally intimate space gives the audience an up-close look at every move Watkins makes, and still, each trick remains a complete mystery. Even the most cynical, perceptive minds will be baffled by this remarkable spectacle.

Paul Kubicki's Stage and Cinema review of THE MAGIC PARLOUR in ChicagoAt most magic shows, there are one or two audience members who get called up on stage to participate,  and that select few always seem to leave more excited than everyone else. In The Magic Parlour, about half of the audience (at least) is called on for participation—though I think just about everyone leaves the room thrilled. At the beginning, Watkins tells the audience it is their show—he succeeds at making it as interactive as possible, getting everyone in on the fun.

Due to its success, the House Theatre of Chicago has extended The Magic Parlour. With such a long run, tickets shouldn’t be too hard to come by even with limited seating. That said, the room was almost at capacity—and after a show as exciting as that, those like myself are likely to return and bring friends, hoping to catch some intimation of just how he does it. Though with a magician of Watkins’ caliber, its unlikely we’ll ever know what’s up his sleeve.

The Magic Parlour
The House Theatre of Chicago
The Palmer House Hilton Hotel, 17 E Monroe
Fri at 7:30 & 9:30; Sat at 4:30, 7:30 & 9:30 (check schedule)
open run
for tickets, call 773-769-3832 or visit The Magic Parlour

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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