Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Review of Chicago Children's Theatre's The Houdini Box

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Houdini Box. The Houdini Box is about a ten-year-old boy named Victor (Alex Weisman) who is big fan of Harry Houdini (Derek Hasenstab), and when he is at the train station he meets Harry Houdini himself. This boy is an admirer of Harry Houdini, but all his dreams of being a magician and becoming best friends with Harry Houdini are all discarded because Harry Houdini has been taken away from everybody’s life. Even his wife’s life. But it ends with an ending that is not heartbreaking. You feel happy that his dream has finally come true in the way that he didn’t want but it was still a good way.

One of my favorite scenes was the scene where Victor tried to get out of his grandmother’s trunk to be like Harry Houdini. His grandmother’s trunk was locked, and he’d never unlocked it before. Houdini got out of a trunk that was dropped into the water—in less that 20 seconds! When Victor got into the box, the box shook and you could hear “Help, help, please. Somebody? I’m in here!” It is funny that he cannot get out and the box is shaking like in cartoons. I like cartoons, so I thought this was funny. It is kind of funny that the box is shaking, but it is not funny that he is failing to get out. He needs to know that he does not have “magical powers” like Houdini. He doesn’t have any special picks or anything in there.

I liked the scene where Victor was playing with his Harry Houdini doll and was making it do the water torture cell trick. But all he could do was get a honey pot to do the water torture cell trick. And the Barker (Derek Hasenstab) said, “The ONE! The ONLY! Harry Houdini!” and then Harry Houdini the doll came out and was like “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” This scene tells you that Victor cannot actually have the things that Harry Houdini could have. He couldn’t have the real water torture cell or even one that kind of looked like it. It makes you feel sorry for Victor but kind of happy that he likes to pretend that he has things of Harry Houdini’s.

Right before they left for the train station, Victor's mother (Sara Sevigny) tied a rope to his hand and she took him outside. I thought that wasn't exactly how moms are, except for the ones in Cinderella. She wasn't a bad mom, she wasn't evil or anything. She didn't make him do all the housework. She did kind of want the best for him, but it wasn't the best for him because he liked magic. Why doesn't she just let him have magic like he wants? There are no villains in this, and she is not a villain, but you kind of feel sorry for Victor that he can't have magic. Sara also got to play Harry Houdini's wife. Bess is Harry Houdini's wife's nickname, but that is what everyone called her. Even Houdini called her this. She was so nice and so truthful to Victor about Houdini's death. And she is giving him a present of Houdini's and he wanted to give it to him, which was a box that had the initials carved into it: E.W. And E.W. stands for Erich Weiss. I know it looks like it is going to be a w sound, but it is actually a v sound--Veiss. I'm not going to give away the ending, but I will tell you that Erich Weiss is the name of a person who I cannot give away his true identity.

I think the puppets were cool. One of them was the bus that would just move along and the puppets of the Mother and Victor getting on the bus and them getting off the bus, and them getting on the train, and them getting off the train, and them getting to Aunt Harriet’s house. I liked it because they were not like finger puppets, and they were not like hand puppets, and they were not like marionettes. They were like shadow puppets only they had faces and you could see them. And at Aunt Harriet’s house, when the actual actors were playing the parts of Aunt Harriet and Victor and the Mother, they had the dolls that they would talk to Victor with, and I thought that was cool because the dolls were so small and the person was so big that it made them seem like they were Borrowers.

There was one problem with the puppets, which was that there was Victor’s son and he was just a hat, and gloves, and a baseball bat. I didn’t like this because it seemed like Victor's son was some kind of ghost or something. And if you looked at it, you kind of felt sad for Victor because you kind of felt like his kid was dead. They could have gotten an actor to play it or at least a puppet with a face.

The play is based on a book with the exact same name. It is by Brian Selznick. The play did have my favorite part in it, which is a happy part, which is one of my favorite lines. It is not a funny one, just a happy one. And it is “Victor locked himself inside his grandmother’s trunk and under twenty seconds.” In the play, he came out of a door in the room that was not connected to the box. It made you feel more happy for him because you actually got to see him escape and come out from somewhere else.

When you walked into the space, you knew it was going to be a good adaptation because the stage looked a lot like pictures from in the book. I liked how the actors could just bring apart the set, and there was a new set, and bring apart the set, and there was a new set, and so on. If you open a book, there will be another page behind it, so it was kind of like opening a book. Each set was like seeing another page. And I would like to say congratulations to Blair Thomas for making such a great set and directing very well and making the puppets good.

There are usually no songs in a book, but sometimes in comic books. I liked a lot of the songs (by Hannah Kohl and Mark Messing) in the play, but one of my favorites was “A Mother’s Day is Never Done” because it kind of showed kids what it would be like if they ever had kids. Victor sings it when he’s older, but this time “A Father’s Day is Never Done.”

In the scene where Victor is saying how "a father's day is never done," there are these things that pop out of the black curtain behind him. One is a work bag, two is a dinner, three is a story, and four is a pillow. And he would say "Work, dinner, story, sleep" over and over again. I liked how he was still straight up but there was a pillow that he would not actually lay down on. They would just bring it up next to his head, and he would close his eyes. He would do things over and over again and never stop; every day was just a regular old day. You feel sorry for him kind of because he never has time to do things that aren't everyday things.

People that like magic, mystery, and puppets would like this show. I think this show should be for ages 3 and up. People should go to this play because it is funny but also suspenseful. It is an awesome adaptation of The Houdini Box, and if anybody is born and misses it, I hope they do a remount.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

No comments: