To the world, Harry Houdini was the greatest magic man that ever lived. He escaped water torture cells and straightjackets in locked metal handcuffs and shackles. But, to his wife Wilhelmina Beatrice “Bess” Rahner Houdini, he was the love of her life.
In the CSUN production “Houdini’s Box,” Bess Houdini (Lauren Dacey) along with a spirit medium (Lindsay Sacks) successfully communicate with the deceased illusionist as the two flashback into past events that happened throughout his mysterious life including his career.
After Houdini died on Halloween 1926, his wife held yearly s’eacute;ances with mediums because her husband told her that he would contact her from the afterlife. Although there is no evidence that any of the s’eacute;ances were successful, the play is about a spiritual journey Bess and the medium experience on the 10th anniversary of Houdini’s death.
“Tonight, I listen for your heartbeat. Give me a sign,” screams Bess.
All of a sudden, thunder strikes as she and the medium violently move around the stage. After awhile, there are spirits around the s’eacute;ance table hand-in-hand as they circle around it over and over again. These movements are successful in creating a tense and supernatural mood.
The costumes in this performance are realistic and really bring the story alive. Houdini is dressed in his trademark black tie and suit. The women wore slim dresses and had bobbed-hairdos. The spirits covered their bodies with colorful long patterned veils that drooped over their faces and bodies. These costumes helped create the mysterious atmosphere.
With four separate actors and actresses playing the entertainer, each Houdini depicts a different role. These roles are Houdini as a child (Mary Higgins), the showman (Justin Rabi), the escape artist (David Kim) and the magician (Raychel Espiritu). Although the use of several actors and actresses is a bit confusing at first, the audience is memorized in the creative ways the actors and actresses switch off.
In one scene, young Houdini, whose real name was Ehrich Weiss, is on his knees crying after his rabbi father’s spirit asks him to take care of his mother. Instead of telling his father’s spirit that he will take over, he slowly walks over to a chest and opens it. Adult Houdini (Rabi) steps out and yells that he will take care of his mother. Here, it is brilliant to see young Houdini turn into adult Houdini in that situation.
In another scene, the different actors and actresses that play Houdini stand in front of each other and speak.
“Who so we become when we are locked in?” asks the first Houdini (Kim).
“Inside you will find a very smart man,” said the second Houdini (Higgins).
“Do they believe what they see or see what they believe?” asks the third Houdini (Rabi).
Moreover, the stage constantly and imaginatively transforms into different stunts throughout the play. In one stunt, Houdini’s hands are tied together and he is placed into a box. His assistant, who just so happens to be Bess, builds the audience’s anticipation.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, count along with me to three. Please watch closely for the effects. Do not look away for even a moment,” said Bess.
Suddenly, Houdini releases himself from the wrist constraints and stands proudly on top of the box. There are sounds of crowds cheering for his victory.
Although there is not a lot of dialogue in this play, the few words that are spoken are memorable.
“You too are an escape artist. We are all tied down by someone, something, some place. But, we are not all the great Harry Houdini,” said Houdini (Rabi).
“Houdini’s Box,” is an abstract play and dance performance spotlighting a magician whose illusions were respected and loved by the world-especially by his devoted wife. This play runs every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Dec. 2 at the CSUN Studio Theatre. For ticket information, call (818) 677-2488.