The Magic Parlour Review-A night of magic with The House Theatre's Dennis Watkins

Dennis Watkins, magician and prestidigitator extraordinaire, 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 of Chicago. This third-generation sleight of hand master is currently starring in an open-ended engagement called “The Magic Parlour” at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe, Chicago, a venue uniquely suited to his charismatic talent and exuberant romantic style. The oldest operating hotel in Chicago, and a national historic landmark, the current Palmer House is the third hotel of that name located at the corner of State and Monroe, and a stunning rococo masterpiece. The Magic Parlour is a 75 minute terrific show jam-packed with card tricks, mind-reading, and joyful continuous audience participation. During one incredible stunt, Watkins inflates and climbs inside a 7 foot balloon. Then, an audience member, who has selected a card in secret from within a new deck hurls the closed deck at the balloon. From inside, the magician stabs at the deck with a knife, bursting the balloon and impaling the secret card!

The magician lights a fire

The magic begins in Potter’s lounge, named after Potter Palmer, the Chicago visionary real-estate magnate and entrepreneur who built Lake Shore Drive, incepted the magnificent mile and launched the first hotel 140 years ago. Then the guests are taken to a lovely private room, paneled in wood and with a bar dispensing drinks included in the cover charge, where approximately 50 children and adults (the perfect number for close-up magic, according to Watkins) are mesmerized and delighted.

Another magic trick

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.

An awesome card trick

Watkins is at pains to tell us that the magic lives in our imaginations, yet that doesn’t begin to explain how an audience member’s dollar bill ends up folded inside a whole orange! 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!

He can see blindfolded

Indeed, it seems that almost every audience member 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 engages our awe as we participate in the program. One and all, adult or child, nobody can guess how his legerdermain was managed. Some of his simple props were used; he inexplicably rapped on a suitcase. Yet some props remained unused; a box one expected him to place a scantily clad lady inside to saw her in half, a la Houdini,  remained leaning untouched beside a wall. And speaking of Houdini, our House magician expertly performed an amazing stunt which he informed us the great former Erich Weiss 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 out the unraveled string with all of the razor blades threaded on it from his mouth!

The razor blades emerge

This last was done 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 even more, 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 magic parlour

 All photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow and Johnny Knight

Come and see this wonderful performer and all of the House Theatre of Chicago”s productions. For more information, see thehousetheatre website

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