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Since this is a show about magic, a Ringmaster (Derek Hasenstab) introduces us to Victor (Alex Weisman), a boy who loves magic. Although he can’t quite do any tricks yet, he’s positive he can learn if he can just see Harry Houdini. Since his habit of locking himself into trunks is getting on Mother’s (Sara Sevigny) last nerve, she decides to take him to stay with Aunt Harriot (Hasenstab). Houdini, whom he met waiting for the train, ultimately gives him a wooden box (which he can’t open) with the initials E. W. on the bottom.
As an audience, children are immediate and honest in their reactions. Above all else, good children’s theater should engage them. At the performance I attended, the kids were engrossed in the performance. They were reacting – with laughter, with applause, and with comments.
“The Houdini Box” uses a combination of live action and puppetry to tell Victor’s story. The ingenious stage is divided into thirds – on the left, a small curtained window is above percussionist, Ethan Deppe; in the center, there is a small stage with a curtain; and on the right, another small window above musician, Rob Cruz.
The actors occupy center stage. Whenever one of them exits in either direction, they become puppets in one of those smaller puppet stages. The first time the live action segued into puppetry, I wondered the kids would find it credible. They answered that question with their easy laughter. By the way, kudos to puppeteers Sam Deutsch and Tyler Culligan.
The four-star “The Houdini Box” runs through March 4th at the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 10:15 am; Saturdays and Sundays at 10:15 and 2:00. In addition to 10:15, there will be a later performance most Fridays. Tickets range from $18-$26 for children up to 18 years old; $28-$36 for adults. FYI (773) 325-1700 or www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org.
If you can’t make the Mercury, “The Houdini Box” will be moving to the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie for a three week run March 14th through 25th. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 10:15; Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 and 2:00. Tickets range from $18-$31 for children up to 18; $28-$41 for adults. FYI (847) 673-6300 or www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org.