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‘The Magic Parlour’ Review — Dennis Watkins Makes Miracles Right Before Your Eyes

By Leanne Star

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Pick any card—there's no stumping Dennis Watkins

No need to pay the tuxedoed bartender who offers you a drink before you settle into a padded chair to watch “The Magic Parlour.” The drink is included in the price of admission, and the affable barkeep would only make your money disappear, for he is Dennis Watkins, who is about to take his place at the front of a wood-paneled private room at the historic Palmer House Hotel to begin a performance of the extraordinary show he created for The House Theatre of Chicago.



Up close magic at the Palmer House


It’s not easy to find entertainment that never flags, but “The Magic Parlour” keeps ithe audience spellbound for 75 nonstop minutes. Whether it’s your first visit and you’re astonished to see how a trick unfolds, or whether it’s a repeat visit and you’re still trying to figure out how the tricks you’ve seen right before your eyes — sometimes only inches away — are done, chances are you won’t unravel any of Watkins’ magic — and odds are that you won’t care, because much of the pleasure comes from making your way back to that sweet spot of childhood where you are simply enchanted.



Playing with fire


Speaking of children, they are welcome at Watkins’ performances, and the magician’s sometimes racy jokes will fly right under their radar, even as their parents and grandparents chuckle. On the night I watched Watkins at play, the audience included a Missouri family with children ages 14, 12 and 9 — their jaws dropped in wonder at Watkins’ magical miracles.




What makes Watkins’ prestidigitation all the more impressive is that his close-up magic is presented intimately, with the audience limited to 32 people, many of whom will be given small parts to play. Watkins is a third-generation magician who quotes his grandfather, Ed Watkins, near the start of the show: “If you put someone inside of a box and cut them in half, people don’t believe it’s magic. They think it’s a very special box. But if you can tear up their dollar bill and restore it right under their nose, or look into their mind and read their thoughts, or create any number of other miracles inches in front of their eyes, that is an experience they will never forget.”



Magician Dennis Watkins


In “The Magic Parlour” Watkins toys with that dollar bill and a whole range of props, from an orange to an enormous red balloon, used in a way you probably haven’t seen before. As you might expect, there are card tricks, but they go far beyond the usual. With one antic shuffle Watkins reveals an elaborate, illustrated narrative. Mixed in with Watkins’ exceptional legerdemain are feats of mentalism — ESP of the highest order. Not only is Watkins an uber literate mind reader, but he also unveils his findings in original ways, including in a Sudoku-like grid he scrawls in mere seconds.



Watkins makes it all add up


Ticket holders check in at Potter’s Lounge off the Palmer House lobby to be escorted to the performance space. To get into a magical mood, enjoy dinner beforehand at the hotel’s Lockwood Restaurant, billed as the “Magician’s Favorite.” I shuffled some appetizers and sides from the menu into a customized meal: beef tartare with black truffle, roasted beets with hazelnuts, crisp fingerling potatoes in duck fat. Lockwood offers full à la carte and prix fixe menus — and it’s no trick to make the tasty food disappear.






The Magic Parlour


Palmer House Hilton Hotel, 17 E. Monroe St., Chicago


Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and 9:30 pm; Sundays at 4 pm; additional performances for the December holidays; through Dec. 31, 2014; resuming late January 2015


Tickets $75 at The Magic Parlour Chicago or (773) 769-3832




Photos: Michael Brosilow


Published on Nov 09, 2014

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