Dennis Watkins stars in The House Theatre's "The Magic Parlour" Review- A magical evening for the child in all of us

Dennis Watkins, magician and prestidigitator par excellence, has been an inspirational and entertainment force in Chicago for years. A classically trained actor, he is a member and co-founder of the wonderfully innovative House Theatre. This third-generation sleight of hand master is the star for the past 4+ years of an open-ended engagement called “The Magic Parlour”.  Presented in a lovely chamber at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe, Chicago, a venue uniquely suited to his classical talent and exuberant romantic style, the 75  minute show is jam-packed with card tricks, mind-reading and audience involvement. It concludes with an amazing stunt during which Watkins climbs inside of a 7 foot fully inflated balloon . When he stabs his way out, he impales a secret card.

An audience member with Dennis Watkins

Watkins’ grandfather was the legendary Texas magician Ed Watkins who operated a storefront and mail order magic shop; his father, aunts and uncles were also sleight of hand performers. During his show, Watkins often and warmly refers to the lessons he learned from his grandfather, using terms such as “vanishing, transformation, extra-sensory perception, and unearthly feats of physical skill”, which Watkins displayed in his uncanny stunts throughout his show.

 Watkins is at pains to tell us that the magic lives in our imaginations, yet that doesn’t begin to explain how he can guess someone’s secretly chosen number, and reveal it in 16 different combinations.  Nor does it explain how he can fathom the name of an audience member’s loved one, written on a pad of paper from which the member removes the sheet upon which the name is scrawled!

Watkins channelling Harry Houdini

Indeed, it seems that almost every person in the intimate audience of 40 members gets to shuffle the deck, select objects for Watkins to identify while heavily blindfolded, or have their minds read! Watkins wants us to feel like kids again, and he allows many to participate in the program. One and all, adult or child, nobody could guess how his legerdermain was managed. The props he used were minimal-a suitcase he routinely rapped, his own pockets, several decks of cards, a large pad of paper and a marker, a paperback book. He has very flexible hands and feet, which move about often, but do not reveal their secrets- concealment or distraction?

Watkins doing an amazing card trick called "Joe"

This reviewer’s favorite piece of magic enacted by this House magician was an expertly achieved stunt which- he informed us- the great former Erich Weiss (commonly known as Harry Houdini) performed with pins. First, he placed a rolled-up piece of thread on his tongue. Next, he swallowed, one by one, a new package of razor blades (previously inspected, of course, by someone in the audience) and then, Hey Presto! He pulled the unraveled string with all of the razor blades threaded on it from his mouth! Indeed, Watkins long starred in a  very succesful House Theatre show entitled “Death and Harry Houdini”.

 At the show’s beginning, Watkins advised that he would take us to “A land of enchantment”. The wonderful act was presented throughout to the accompaniment of jazz music, cheers and his own wry smiles and gentle jests. The night I was there Dennis Watkins made everybody feel special. We were stunned with his dexterity and we were disarmed by his eloquent honesty. He told us, “If you learn to spot the impenetrable, it can look like magic”. To all of us, it did so look and it was!

The magician in The Magic Parlour


 The show changes regularly. Come and see this wonderful performer and all of the House Theatre of Chicago’s productions. For more information, contact or go to for tickets and showtimes.


All photos by Ryan Bourque









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