Off the unprecedented success of their first virtual production, The Present, the Geffen Playhouse is doubling down on magic. And it makes sense—The Present sold out 251 performances, plus an additional 6,000 tickets for the closing night alone, when the audience was greatly expanded beyond its usual intimate number to allow more to experience magician Helder Guimarães’s impressive and mystifying feats. With The Future, it seems lightning has in fact struck twice. Once again written and performed by Guimarães and directed by Frank Marshall, The Future is a successor to The Present in name only. The stories are not connected, and those who missed the first production will appreciate this one just as much.
The Geffen has upped the ante in every way, beginning with the sleek, black, cylindrical design of the mystery package participants receive in the mail prior to the performance, a definite upgrade from the simple brown boxes sent out for The Present. Back in May, much of that production felt like a lucky experiment. Now, four shows and counting into their Geffen Stayhouse series, each experience gets more refined, from the Zoom check-in process to the production value. They have also grown more ambitious in a financial sense—each virtual audience for The Future consists of 50 households, roughly double the size of previous Zoom offerings. As a result, fewer audience members are called upon to confer directly with Guimarães, but thanks to the contents of the mystery package, everyone gets to participate along at home.
Guimarães is an impressively magnetic performer, even over Zoom. He possesses a natural charisma that draws the audience in, which feels extra important in a setting that is not as naturally distraction-free as in-person theater. And his stories are heartfelt. The narrative of The Future centers around how Guimarães came to learn sleight of hand, and how he subsequently had to grapple with the morality of it. He tells tales of an underground poker game in Marseilles, and a corporate Christmas party with a not-so-random raffle drawing. Along the way, he manages to pose insightful, timely questions—does the concept of stealing become more acceptable when the person doing it has had the odds stacked against them by society? A theme throughout is the impact of decisions, which is beautifully laid out in a series of truly baffling card tricks. “Time puts things in perspective,” Guimarães ponders, a sentiment that rings extra true in this year when time has felt both interminable and fleeting.
At multiple points throughout the show, the audience gets to vote using the poll feature on Zoom, also used in Citizen Detective, to determine the perspective from which they would like to see the next trick. And the tricks are truly mind-blowing—as a person constantly looking for the rational explanation in life, I once again have none for what Guimarães is able to pull off. While the Geffen has also tried puzzles and crime-solving, magic hands down works the best on this virtual platform. In addition to Guimarães being a gifted performer, there is something about being able to duplicate a card trick with your own two hands at home that draws you in and creates a very convincing communal experience. The presence of a compelling narrative also helps the performance feel like true theater rather than just a series of gimmicks. Guimarães also has other tricks up his sleeve to add to the immersive feeling of the show that I will not spoil, but trust me when I say The Future is a feat of not only magic, but virtual theater production.
In the spring, The Present offered a message of resilience, important in the face of what certainly became a long, difficult year. Now, with a new year just ahead and a COVID-19 vaccine beginning distribution, it is the first time in a while it has felt possible to think hopefully about the future. The day when we may be able to once again congregate at the theater at last feels within reach. But for now, we are very fortunate to have innovative institutions like the Geffen and gifted performers like Guimarães who have kept the spirit of theater alive in this time when the industry is hurting so badly. May The Future shine bright.
The Future has already been extended through March 14th. Limited tickets are still available through January 31st here, and tickets for the extension go on sale December 21st at 10am PST. The running time is 80 minutes, no intermission. This performance is open to international audiences, although additional fees for shipping of the mystery package may be incurred. Internet access with audio/video conferencing capability is required, and the show is recommended for ages 12 and up. For more information on the Geffen’s other virtual offerings, or to purchase a gift card for the holidays, click here.