Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews


Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - September 29, 2016

Helder Guimarães
Photo by Joan Marcus

Forget laws of logic—what happened to the laws of physics? During his new show Verso, which just opened at New World Stages, Helder Guimarães seems to violate them as a general principle. He's a magician, so of course you'd expect such things, but even so, it's difficult to prepare for playing cards that snap into existence out of thin air, whole decks of the things that change color before your eyes, wedding rings that melt through walls or floors and back again, envelopes that predict the future with their contents, and even smartphones that unlock apparently through the rigorous application of brain waves than by codes tapped on their screens. Nothing is sacred and nothing is sensible.

A number of other tricks zap into being during this nearly two-hour evening, frequently debunking the quaint notion that we can trust our eyes. At one point, Guimarães runs through a deck's entire collection of spades while blindfolded, even throwing a game of 52-Card Pickup in there for good measure. Other times, our minds are the target, as he proves through guessing personal information from randomly chosen audience members or replicating a picture a volunteer drew well away from his sight. Nor is Guimarães above being playful, such as when he reveals a mark's counting out of cards while in search of one particular one was off by just two or three. No worries, though—of course he correctly named the card in question anyway. What else would he do? What else would anyone in Guimarães's position do?

He's world-renowned for his abilities—he brags in his Playbill bio about being the youngest person ever (at 23) to be named World Champion of Card Magic—and from watching him, you'll never question his worthiness, but the rest of the show struggles to live up to that reputation. While performing his feats, Guimarães displays a sly confidence that borders on cockiness, but because he does enough to earn it (how did he get the name of a completely random country on the back of that card?!?), he's nonetheless engaging onstage.

During the in-between scenes, when he attempts to contextualize his magic, a lot of that his rough-edged likability evaporates and he becomes more mechanical, as though he's aiming for Penn Jillette subversion but not ready to squeeze the trigger all the way. Large chunks of dialogue are devoted to empty aphorisms or disconnected moralizing ("I am weird. But you guys are also weird. We are all weird"; "Judging something worthless or not is just a matter of perception"; "What we reject is a natural consequence of what we fear") that fall flat as much for their mundanity in what ought to be an atmosphere of perpetual wonder as for his thick Portuguese accent, which mushes more than a few words of his otherwise exceptional English delivery. When you need to guide every mind and mislead every eye, every word counts.

Guimarães appeared more comfortable, natural, and mysterious in his previous outing Nothing to Hide, which he performed with Derek DelGaudio in 2013. Having someone to play off of and banter with aided misdirection, upped the entertainment factor, and increased Guimarães's innate magnetism; when he played the brooding silent type, you wanted to see more of him; now, whenever he's not conjuring an illusion, you'd be okay with a bit less. Clever direction from Neil Patrick Harris also helped, as Rodrigo Santos's staging here, on a crazy crate-crammed set by Catarina Marques, is fairly staid and unremarkable. Freshness mattered too—I'm sorry to say that Guimarães has recycled a number of routines from that show into this one, and they're somewhat less amazing the second time around. (Even just switching up the prophetic newspaper in the finale would be a plus; but no, it's the same one.)

But if you've never seen them, or any other top-tier magic act, this is in no way a bad one. It's just short of the sparkle that separates the very good from the great. "You can't change what things are," Guimarães says at one point, "but you can change the way people look at them." Verso delivers enough fun while it's on and enough head-scratching afterward to justify itself, though probably not enough to change magic as part of the deal.

Through January 15, 2017
New World Stages / Stage 5, 340 West 50th Street Between 8th and 9th Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge