Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Review of "Nothing On Earth Can Hold Houdini" Presented by the Axis Company

Randall Sharp has both written and directed a play about the famed Harry Houdini's impassioned campaign to debunk the spiritualists of his day whom he felt were taking advantage of naive individuals desperate to communicate with loved ones beyond the grave.

My evening at the theater began in an interesting manner.  I had invited as my guest a friend who literally lives around the corner from Sheridan Square, and has been in the neighborhood for over 20 years  So, it did not occur to me that we would have trouble finding 1 Sheridan Square, especially since I pass by 3 Sheridan Square each time I visit my friend.  We circumnavigated the block, asking everyone we could find if they knew where 1 Sheridan Square was located.  Blank stares.  We finally found the Axis Theater at the end of the charming little vest pocket Sheridan Square Park.  How ironic that Axis Theater had "escaped" my friend's notice all these years.

The recreation of Houdini's illusions were among the highlights of the evening.  The actors were all very professional and well cast in their roles. The box in which Houdini required the medium to be enclosed in order to prevent her from receiving clues was well executed and built according to Houdini's original plans.  In an earlier scene, Lynn Mancinelli was particularly impressive as she channeled the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle's departed son.  Her over-the-top histrionics were exactly what was called for in this situation.

While I found the show entertaining and worthy of attention, I found Mr. Sharp's script to be a bit muddled in some places.  When there was action - Houdini escaping the straight jacket or chains or the medium channeling spirits - the show was engaging.  When the characters engaged in long speeches and dialogues, I found that the pace lagged a bit.

My overall impression is that this acting company works at a polished level.  I look forward to returning often to this hidden jewel of a theater in the West Village.

The cast features George DemasSpencer Aste, Lynn Mancinelli, Brian Barnhart, David Crabb, Brian Linden. The production includes lighting design by David Zeffren, sound design by Steve Fontaine, costume design by Karl Ruckdeschel and dramaturgy by Marc Palmieri.

Axis Company Website

Can Hold Houdini

Written & Directed by Randall Sharp

February 27 - Apris 5, 2014
Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm
Additional performances on Monday, March 3; Wednesday, March 5 and Wednesday, April 2 at 8pm

Adults: $40 Adults; $30 Seniors & Students
Running Time approximately 1:45
Nothing on Earth, written and directed by Randall Sharp, examines Houdini's driven crusade to expose fraudulent mediums and his crossing paths with the avid spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Both men are catapulted to the center of The Scientific American Magazine contest to find the first-ever provable clairvoyant, a battle that destroyed their friendship and left Houdini to continue his search for a true psychic to contact his mother. He was not successful. 

Axis Company has worked closely with William Kalush, Executive Director of the Conjuring Arts Research Center, Houdini scholar, and author of The Secret Life of Houdini, to re-create some of Houdini's most famous illusions and bring the audience on a journey to the strangest part of his life story. 

Featuring: Spencer Aste, Brian Barnhart, David Crabb, George Demas, Brian Linden and Lynn Mancinelli 

Lighting Design by David Zeffren
Asst. Light Design by Amy Harper
Sound Design by Steve Fontaine
Costume Design by Karl Ruckdeschel
Set Design by Chad Yarborough and Randall Sharp
Prop Design & Construction by Lynn Mancinelli
Dramaturgy by Marc Palmieri
Stage Management by Regina Betancourt 

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