Entertainment » Theatre

Review: Virtual One-Man Show, 'The Present,' Gleefully Diabolical

by Kevin Taft
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 20, 2020
Helder Guimarães in the Geffen Stayhouse production of The Present — Photography by Jeff Lorch
Helder Guimarães in the Geffen Stayhouse production of The Present — Photography by Jeff Lorch  

With most of the county on lockdown (or should be) theatre has come to a devastating and grinding halt. Gone (for now) are the days where audiences would gather together in a communal space and enjoy live performances that took us to new worlds, dazzled us, and moved us. When that time will return is anyone's guess, so it's pretty special that the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles is offering a theatre at home experience.

"The Present" is Geffen's first-ever virtual play. Directed by film industry veteran Frank Marshall, the one-man show stars Helder Guimaraes who whimsically discusses his own experiences growing up with a somewhat guarded grandfather as he navigated his desire to be a magician. For the roughly 70-minute running time, Helder amuses the audience with tales of an accident that put him into quarantine, card games with his grandfather, and his grandfather's various insights into life. Throughout his tales, Helder performs card tricks to illustrate the anecdotes.

But these aren't regular card tricks.

To explain, here's how this virtual experience goes down. The audience — which is limited to 25 participants - dials into a Zoom meeting to watch the play. Each participant can, of course, have others with them watching, but only one person will "participate." To participate, each participant is sent a package a week before the event that they open during the production. In this package are various objects that Helder has the participant utilize throughout the show — including a deck of cards. The illusions he performs are not just something you watch on your computer screen/TV, but something you do along with him using objects inside your package.

And let me tell you — I was left boggled and stunned with each illusion and trick. It was gleefully diabolical!

The lovely aspect of the show is that there is a point to it all. It's not just a series of tricks and magic acts. It's all about the gifts we are left by those that came before us. The lessons we learn without realizing we're learning them. And the ability to see the present by looking at the past.

While we can't be together at this time, seeing other audience members on zoom and hearing their laughter and gasps of astonishment made you feel like you were part of a special community — if only for a moment. And in that time, Helder Guimaraes took us to new worlds, dazzled us, moved us, and made our isolation feel a little less... Isolated.

And what a "present" that was.

"The Present" has been extended through Sunday, July 5, but is currently sold out. For more information or to check back for possible last-minute availability visit www.geffenplayhouse.org.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.


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