Wild About Harry: Where Houdini Lives
Flim Flam is For Real
by John Cox
Last Friday I had the pleasure of attending the opening of Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter at the Malibu Playhouse in Malibu, California. Maybe I’m still under the influence of the champagne reception, but I think Flim Flam could very well be the best Houdini play I’ve yet seen. Not only is there a steady stream of insider references to excite the Houdini buff, but it’s also a beautifully layered story of three couples struggling with their marriages amid fame and a world tumbling toward spiritualism as the answer to all things. Flim-flam indeed.
From the moment the play begins, it is clear everyone involved in the production has done their homework, and this play is here to celebrate Houdini, not bury him. During his introduction on opening night, playwright Gene Franklin Smith said, “The more you study Houdini, the more you discover that you don’t know anything about him.” We all know how true that is!
But it’s clear that Smith has the fever, as he peppers the play with historical Houdini Easter-eggs. We hear Harry order Farmers Chop Suey; Bess gets stuck in the sub trunk (I missed her real-life line: “So this is how you try to kill me!”); there is a mention of Bess’s niece, Julia, and a rub-down with Zam-Buk; the name Quentin Locke is heard (suggesting Houdini might have pre-visited Margery in disguise?); wax “ectoplasmic” hands are used to comedic effect; and Act 2 opens with a terrific silent movie vignette of Houdini and Margery being harassed by Dr. Crandon as The Automaton. This last bit I especially loved, and to coin a Houdini expression, it was here I fell back and proclaimed Gene Franklin Smith “master.”
Rick D. Wasserman is excellent as Houdini. He resists the familiar urge to play the escape king as an overly theatrical egotist, and instead gives us a much more accurate and very human Harry. Here we get a hardworking, showbiz savvy Houdini; a tactician and professional who is, nevertheless, wracked in pain and looking for a less strenuous way to evolve his career. His Houdini is quick witted and disarming with an easy smile, but still dominates any room he’s in, despite more than a few jokes made about his height. It’s always interesting to observe how an actor deals with Houdini’s still mysterious voice, and here Wasserman creates a voice that has a touch of a New York accent, but also contains many elements of Harry’s mixed heritage and experience. We even get to hear Wasserman sing “Rosabel” in a fine singing voice. Yes, Houdini sings in Flim Flam. Hello, money’s worth!
Bess is a very important character in this play and she’s magnificently played by the talented Melissa Kite. Bess is in her full “Champagne Coquette” mode here, and while drinking makes her quick tempered and unstable at times, she is still Houdini’s rock of stability and frequently the only “sober” person in the room when it comes to calling out fakery. Kite as Bess is charming and witty and holds her own with Wasserman’s Harry. They feel like a real couple. But the “spirits” Bess has turned to are far more insidious than those being channeled by Margery and Lady Doyle on behalf of their husbands, so the Bess of Flim Flam is also tragic. Again, feels true.
Sabra Malkinson as Mina Crandon a.k.a. “Margery” is sexy, strong, charismatic, and even a little frightening. Her stage time is limited, but she dominates when present — a force as formidable as Houdini himself, as it should be. Malkinson nicely channels Walter in her strong stage voice using genuine Walter dialogue, and her costuming (and lack thereof) beautifully reflects her complex marital situation — she’s both free and captive. Her Margery admits to using trickery at times, yet she produces phenomena that is unexplainable — the same mantra as Harry Houdini. The play ends with a wonderful “what if” by having Bess visit Margery as a last ditch effort to contact her beloved Harry. It’s an electric idea, but you’ll have to see the play to find out what happens.
Cameron Mitchell, Jr. brings us a thoroughly oily Dr. Leroi Crandon, Margery’s controling husband. Crandon is stiff and old-world by intent, and his open anti-Semitism brings an instant tension to his scenes with Houdini. As with all the women in the play, Margery is in a state of reaction to her husband’s ego and will. But there is a very funny moment when Crandon has to correct his wife on the pronunciation of his own name — showing that while he controls Margery as any wealthy husband would at the time, he doesn’t have her respect or even full attention. Love it.
Peter Van Norden as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is spot on. There is a moment, beautifully staged and performed, in which Doyle explains how spiritualism allowed him to talk to his dead son, and in a flash we understand and forgive the naiveté of the creator of Sherlock Holmes. This is a man who finds comfort in spiritualism from the worst pain possible, even at the cost of his reputation. There is also a nicely staged scene at the beach in which Houdini and Doyle discuss the idea of suicide as “an answer.” One wonders of they might have really had such a conversation.
Top-billed Gigi Bermingham as Lady Doyle is commanding and her scenes with Bess are particularly well done, and she also wears some beautiful period clothing. In Flim Flam we get to see the infamous Automatic Writing session in Atlantic City, and Bermingham eerily rolls her eyes into her head so that they flutter white. Of all the tricksters in this play, Lady Doyle seems to be the most insidious faker, but her motivations are the hardest for me to fathom. Of course, this was also true in real life (was Lady Doyle insane?), so all this all feels correct.
Flim Flam is an entertainment, not a history lesson, so there are moments of poetic license. We see Margery (successfully?) channel Mama Weiss, which certainly never happened in life. But this serves the story well and Sabra Malkinson’s Mama’s voice is as effective as her Walter. Perhaps the largest leap is when Harry lands on the idea of doing a spiritualist exposure act — and does so as a broadly comedic routine with Bess as his partner. Not really accurate (his spiritualist lecture and act was deadly serious), but this was actually an inspired way to present this. Not only did it provide an entertaining and lively moment for the audience in a play that has a lot of talk about death, but it nicely reunited “The Great Houdinis” on stage and very efficiently motivates Conan Doyle’s rage over Houdini’s (comedic) ridicule of his deepest beliefs. Again, great work by Gene Franklin Smith here.
The magic was supervised by our friend Jim Bentley (who has himself played Houdini on-stage on several times), and in the course of the evening we get to see a straitjacket escape, Metamorphosis, the Spirit Cabinet, and a scarf through the neck (very skillfully performed by Wasserman). Also high marks go to the beautiful and historically accurate costumes by Claire Livingston, impressive stage design by Erin Walley, sound design by Greg Chun, and, of course, the magnificent direction by Thomas James O’Leary that pulls all this great work together. You get much more production value in Flim Flam than in many plays of this size.
My only disappointment of the evening? Where the heck was the magic world!? While the play was sold out, the only familiar face I saw was Jim Bentley. Listen up people; one of the best Houdini plays that’s every been produced is happening right now (through Aug 3) at the Malibu Playhouse which, by the way, is a beautiful venue with the ocean right across the street. So pull your noses out of your Erdnase and get on over to the Malibu Playhouse and spend some time with the Houdinis (AMA members get a discount). This is a very special play and a terrific experience, and that’s no flim-flam!
(June 21, 2014)
by Reza Vojdani
Malibu Playhouse’s world premiere of artistic director Gene Franklin Smith’s Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter (directed by Thomas James O’Leary) examines the life and spiritualism of famous magician Harry Houdini (Rick D. Wasserman). Perhaps best described as historical fiction, the play centers around Houdini’s friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter Van Norden) and their mutual interest in psychics, andvalidating what is real and debunking “flim flam” — a flashy trick to make someone believe a lie is the truth. The men’s wives, Bess Houdini (Melissa Kite) and Lady Jean Conan Doyle (Gigi Bermingham) are paired against them, attempting to support their husbands while dealing with their own personal struggles.
Though initially portrayed as a stubborn and staunch non-believer in the supernatural, Houdini’s persona and character development comes off as detailed and introspective. In contrast, Doyle’s portrayal is single- and simple-minded through their numerous scenes of debate, which fall into a predictable pattern of viewpoint and counter-viewpoint; enthusiasm and skepticism. The interplay between the two couples follows a similar pattern. Still, the story of how reality and “flim-flam” seep into the larger society keeps the action so engaging, it masks Doyle’s simplistic rendering.
Houdini’s critical view of swindling provides valuable insight to the nature of mystery and belief in an age without the Internet or instant access to informational media.
Stylized props and magic tricks (courtesy of Magic Consultant Jim Bentley) keep the action grounded in both its more serious and surreal moments: The illustrious magic tricks provide levity and wonder, with effective, surreal lighting (by Leigh Allen). Musical director Beverly Craveiro’s period piano accompaniment spreads icing on the design cake.
By the end of the play, apart from the well-executed theatricality and staging, we’re left with an experience that asks us to consider and reconsider the “truth” behind psychics, spirituality, and the afterlife. Though Smith provides a near definitive answer to the question of whether spirits and true mediums exist, the play also invites us to question if we are ever really seeking the truth, or if we settle for the “flim flam” — just enough razzle dazzle to make us believe a lie as the truth. Just like a good magic trick, the show saves its best surprise for the end.
(July 11, 2014)
Stage Scene LA
by Steven Stanley
“Spiritualism” may not be the first word to spring to mind when master illusionist/escape artist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson-creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are mentioned, but it is precisely this fascinating but lesser-known aspect of the two men’s lives on which playwright Gene Franklin Smith has based his World Premiere drama Flim Flam: Houdini And The Hereafter, now entertaining and elucidating audiences at Malibu Playhouse.
Smith does get things started with a glimpse of two of Houdini’s most famous feats, reminding us what made Harry famous the world over, as Houdini manages first to wriggle himself free from a straightjacket, then magically “metamorphizes” from his own body to that of his wife (and lifelong assistant) Bess, the pair of feats provoking audience oohs and aahs before Flim Flam launches into its tale of two men at odds over the possibility of contact with the dearly departed.
Both Houdini and Conan Doyle had suffered irreparable losses during the 1910s, Harry’s beloved mother Cecilia having passed away in 1913 at the age of 72 and Sir Arthur’s 25-year-old son Arthur having lost his life in 1918 at the tail end of WWI—deaths that sent Houdini and Conan Doyle on spiritual quests resulting in two quite different conclusions.
Whereas Harry ended up convinced that séances and mediums and supposed contact with the dead were nothing but balderdash and set about making it his mission to prove just that, Sir Arthur became spiritualism’s most impassioned proponent, making it his mission to convince Harry that it was in fact possible to communicate with those passed on to the next life.
Flim Flam: Houdini And The Hereafter zeroes in on the brief period in the summer of 1922 during which Houdini and Conan Doyle teamed up on a Scientific American magazine panel investigating the possible fraudulence of (among others) self-declared psychic medium Mina “Margery” Crandon, herself determined to prove that she could indeed make contact with the dead.
A couple of apparent encounters with the deceased Cecilia Weisz would seem to back Sir Arthur’s staunch belief in their veracity. First, Conan Doyle’s wife Lady Jean’s writing hand appears possessed by the spirit of Hungarian-born Mama Houdini. Later, a séance has Margery seeming to channel Houdini’s mother as objects levitate, tables shake, and voices call out from the great beyond—or do they? Is Margery the authentic medium she claims to be, or is she being manipulated by an opportunistic husband?
Playwright Smith has clearly done his research, the result of which is a play that not only entertains and informs but is likely to set audiences to doing their own Houdini/Conan Doyle wikipedia-ing, as it did this reviewer.
Under Thomas James O’Leary’s assured direction, a cast of six do all-around fine work, beginning with Rick D. Wasserman, whose Harry may be a hunk more handsome (and a few inches taller) than his real-life counterpoint, but possesses the acting chops to make us believe. (What we don’t believe are the script’s “short” jokes, since Wasserman’s Harry is every bit as tall as almost everyone else.)
Melissa Kite is a ball of fire as Bess, feisty, fuming, and frequently flying three sheets to the wind on booze. Antaeus Company treasures Peter Van Norden and Gigi Bermingham make for a splendid pair of Conan Doyles, their upper-class English manners a nifty counterpoint to Harry and Bess’s bolder, brasher American selves. Sabra Malkinson effectively distinguishes between a wife cowed by an unscrupulous louse of a spouse and a woman confident of her abilities to communicate with the dead. Cameron Mitchell, Jr. completes the cast as an appropriately smarmy Dr. Leroi Crandon (and don’t you dare call him Leroy.)
Magic consultant Jim Bentley deserves high marks for his multiple mysterious marvels. Music director Beverly Craveiro underscores the production with terrific live piano accompaniment throughout.
Lighting design whiz Leigh Allen’s vaudeville-style footlights and scenic designer Erin Walley’s imaginative velvet-curtained set and have an appropriately theatrical flair. Sound designer Greg Chun’s eerie effects are just right for the mysterious tale at hand. Claire Livingston’s period costumes are elegant treats as well.
Cheryl Valice is production stage manager, Tiffany Towers is assistant stage manager, and magician’s assistants Erica Pastore and Nicole Surratt are in charge of props.
Flim Flam: Houdini And The Hereafter is produced by Julia Holland and Andi Howard.
It’s been fifty-one years since movie star spouses Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh brought Harry and Bess Houdini to the Hollywood silver screen, and with the History Channel miniseries Houdini set to debut this coming September with Oscar winner Adrien Brody in the title role, the time could not be more fitting for a fresh look at the man behind the legend. Stir in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock is still flying high thanks to cocaine, morphine, and those Robert Downey, Jr. flicks, and you’ve got more than enough reason to head up PCH for the Malibu Playhouse season closer.
(July 6, 2014)
The Malibu Times
by Hank Pollard
Two legendary figures, one theatrical, the other literary, do battle in the Malibu Playhouse’s new offering, Flim Flam, that began a six-week run last Friday evening. The playwright is Gene Franklin Smith, who works double duty as the artistic director of the Playhouse. This is the play’s world premiere and marks the end of the Playhouse’s 2013-14 season.
The play’s principal characters are Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Peter Van Norden), and Harry Houdini (played by Rick D. Wasserman), the famous escape artist and illusionist. They lock horns over the question of spiritualism: Are there spirits of the dead who can communicate with the living? Both men have beloved deceased mothers, and Sir Arthur, an ardent believer, claims he has spoken with his mother’s spirit. Houdini contends that spiritualism is a fraud (“flim flam”), but nonetheless earnestly wishes he could be reunited with his mother. The ultimate outcome of this true-to-life face-off is ambiguous. However, the play suggests that Houdini may have communicated with his mother, as well as his wife, after his death.
It is 1922 and Sir Arthur is in the U.S. lecturing on spiritualism accompanied by his wife, Lady Jean, an occasional medium. Sir Arthur has grown so bored with the Sherlock Holmes stories that he refers to the iconic detective as “my albatross.” Sir Arthur is now devoting his life to proving the legitimacy of spiritualism. He and Lady Jean renew their acquaintance with Houdini and his wife, Bess, and Houdini joins him in an investigation of the authenticity of claims of mediums that they can communicate with spirits of the dead.
Sir Arthur is seeking what Houdini says does not exist — a medium who is “the McCoy.” Since Houdini had made a career of flim flamming the public, Sir Arthur believes that if he can be persuaded to accept spiritualism the battle will be won. Houdini for his part relishes this opportunity to debunk it. During the course of their investigations they encounter a shady physician, Dr. Leroi Crandon, who manages his wife, Mina, a professional medinot exist — a medium who is “the um”.
The dialog is brisk and droll. The play is highlighted by interspersed snatches of Houdini, with Bess as his assistant, performing feats of escape and sleights of hand. They were baffling even to this reviewer sitting in the first row. The séances, in which Lady Jean and Mina purportedly communicate with the dead, are enthralling. Though Houdini initially views these séances askance, his skepticism gradually begins to erode. After one séance he cries out to Bess, “Mama was in that room!” Bess remains unconvinced, maintaining, “Anybody can fake anything.”
All of the performances are uniformly excellent. Wasserman’s Houdini and Melissa Kite’s Bess appropriately reach but do not go over the top. They posture and flounce in a fashion consistent with the theatricality of their characters. But they also reveal their humanness in Houdini’s poignant longing for his mother’s arms and Bess’ simmering jealousy of her.
Van Norden, as Sir Arthur, portrays the internationally successful author with the confidence you would expect. But he also exposes the desperation of a son seeking to reconnect with his recently deceased mother. Gigi Bermingham, as Lady Jean, deftly depicts the wife of the author with the hauteur of the English upper class. She makes Lady Jean’s transformation into someone who communicates with the spirit world all the more surprising.
Cameron Mitchell, Jr. convincingly displays Dr. Crandon’s opportunism and latent anti-Semitism toward Houdini. His hatred of Houdini culminates in a confrontation in which they almost come to blows. Sabra Malkinson invests Mina, his wife, with the subservience demanded by her autocratic husband but becomes assertive and foul-mouthed when in the spirit world.
The play’s many scenes move across the stage fluidly and attest to the direction of Thomas James O’Leary, a veteran of the New York and Los Angeles stages. The Malibu Playhouse’s curtainless stage challenges scene, sound and lighting design, functions ably performed by Erin Walley, Greg Chun and Leigh Allen. Claire Livingston designs the authentic 1920s costumes. The contribution of Magic Castle’s Jim Bentley as the production’s magic consultant is strikingly evident. Beverly Craveiro at the piano sets the mood with music of the 1920s. The producers are Julia Holland and Andi Howard.
(June 21, 2014)
Life In LA
The Unlikely Friendship: Houdini and the Spiritualism Movement
by Eleanor Chua
Malibu Playhouse recently opened its season-closing production of Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter. This gem of a script was written by the Playhouse’s own Artistic Director, Gene Franklin Smith and brought to life by Director Thomas James O’ Leary.
The play centers on the great illusionist Harry Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author and spiritualist proponent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who despite their polarizing social and educational difference develop an unexpected friendship. This brilliant story is topped only by the performance of outstanding cast members Rick D. Wasserman (Harry Houdini), Melissa Kite (Bess Houdini), Peter Van Norden (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), Gigi Bermingham (Lady Jean Conan Doyle), Sabra Malkinson (Mina Crandon), and Cameron Mitchell Jr. (Dr. Leroi Crandon).
The playwright Smith attributed his personal experience with spirituality as the biggest premise for conducting research on spiritualism that eventually resulted in a script. For Smith, the friendship between the head of the spiritualist movement and its staunch critic, Houdini, was the best theme to write about. The resulting play is one that is evidently authentic in its dialogue and character portrayal.
As Houdini, Mr. Wasserman was flawless in his execution of the magician’s infamous illusions. The production maintained the illusion of the character’s magic with the help of real-life Magician Jim Bentley. The same can be said of Melissa Kite as Houdini’s wife, who also had to perform magic tricks. To note, they performed the Metamorphosis Illusion, wherein Bess and Houdini switch places getting trapped in tightly locked luggage. The production used more than the necessary theatrics to seamlessly transport the audience into the 1920s.
Sir Doyle developed an obsession in proving the truth about spiritualism and the ability to communicate with spirits by way of séances, after the death of his son in the First World War. Juxtapose Sir Doyle with that of Mr. Houdini, who, through his own aggressive pursuit in seeking the truth about spiritualism, prefers to subject all claims surrounding the practice to a thorough test of truth. By virtue of his expertise in illusions (i.e. levitation and disappearing/appearing acts) Houdini was more adept in identifying phonies than Doyle ever was.
There is no folly in holding on to one’s own truth. The frailty of human consciousness is that each of us tends to create a reality that serves our respective needs. We are predisposed to becoming biased towards building truths that are aligned with our own agendas. Flim Flam reveals itself to be a story about stubborn individual truths that turn even the most educated scholars into heartbreakingly gullible pawns.
The director delivered a fluid progression from civility to outright contempt between the Doyles and the Houdinis—a feat oftentimes difficult to achieve in a play that depicts a relationship that in reality took years of gradual tension to unravel. The multifaceted portrayal of each character elicited a spectrum of emotion from the audience. Emotions that ranges from contempt to admiration for characters as they go through the story.
The rift between the two worsened after their meetings with the controversial spiritualist Mina Crondan. Doyle, who had vocalized support to one too many fraudulent mediums, was belligerent in defending Mina’s authenticity against Houdini’s scrutiny. Mina apparently performed her sessions in the nude to preempt any doubts of her hiding ectoplasm and other tools of trickery—the nudity, while persuasive, was distracting to some. But Houdini was less than enthralled.
In the end, it was Lady Jean who set into motion the extent to which the Doyles would employ deceit to preserve their reputations in their spiritualism circles. Bess, played by Ms. Kite, was uncompromising in her stance against the trickery that plagued claims of séances and self-proclaimed spiritual mediums. Untarnished by desires to be agreeable, Mrs. Houdini took on the task of bringing to light the self-serving nature of the friendship offered by the Doyles. Kite, who has won critical acclaim for her role as Andrea in an earlier Malibu Playhouse production,The Dream of the Burning Boy, was the perfect balance of fragility and providence that is reflective of a woman who has made a life out of supporting her husband, and in the process losing sight of what she could’ve made of her own talents.
This play achieves a tenderness that subsists in the friendship that both men shared. It is a wonderfully human depiction of how genuine friendships develop and falter when personal agendas get in the way of integrity. One need only look at the dynamics of the two men and their equally skilled wives to know that these situations are as timeless as any other non-fiction story about integrity and friendship.
(June 26, 2014)
“I…devoted…time and thought to this illusion…. it was…trickery. I devised it to show…what can be done along these lines…do not jump to the conclusion that… things you see are…‘supernatural,’ or the work of ‘spirits,’ just because you cannot explain them.” — Harry Houdini to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
It is the summer of 1922, and Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are investigating psychic mediums for the Scientific American committee. Their collegiality becomes challenged, however, when Conan Doyle advocates on behalf of an attractive and alluring psychic, claiming that she is the real deal. Houdini is dogged in his efforts to demonstrate that she is a fraud; that is, until she appears to connect with Houdini’s beloved mother from beyond the grave. Now Houdini must confront his own thinking about life-after-life.
That’s the subject of Gene Franklin Smith’s latest play, Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter, now in its world premiere at the Malibu Playhouse, through August 3. Cleverly directed with an eye on period specificity by Thomas James O’Leary (aided greatly by Claire Livingston’s Roaring Twenties costumes and Erin Walley’s credible scenic design), Flim Flam is a provocative exploration of spiritualism, mediumship, and hucksterism. What’s more, the story is inspired by the experiences of these true-life characters.
In fact, Flim Flam is theater that acts as a time machine. It brings us back to the days after World War I but before the Great Depression, World War II and the inventions of cinema and flight. And though science and society are on the march in modernity, many people are fascinated by and even fixated on the possibility that the human spirit lives after the body has ceased to exist. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (played convincingly and with great dignity by Peter Van Norden), having much respect and influence in the world as the novelist who conceived of Sherlock Holmes, is a leading figure in the quest to validate spiritualism.
Harry Houdini (an agile and remarkably believable Rick D. Wasserman), on the other hand, is a master magician and renowned escape artist who is a major celebrity and devoted debunker of the contention that anyone on earth can connect and communicate with the deceased. Houdini refers to all “magic” as trickery, illusion, and, in his words, flim flam. This, of course, creates an unfriendly divide between Conan Doyle and him.
Nevertheless, when Houdini encounters Mina “Margery” Crandon (a sexy, versatile Sabra Malkinson) and her unctuous husband, Dr. Leroi Crandon (a delightfully snippy Cameron Mitchell, Jr.), he is at first put off by her crass and merciless “act” of contacting spirits. Then the inexplicable occurs. This medium is able to convince Houdini that his dead mother is present among them
With intelligence and dramatic momentum Flim Flam is a play that examines how open heartedness can lead to open mindedness. Does the spirit survive the body? Does the love we have for another connect us not only in life but also in the afterlife? Flim Flam doesn’t provide the answers as much as it poses the questions. But that’s enough. Flim Flam allows us to think about the issue and to consider our own experience while reflecting on our own situations.
Moreover, with a dedicated cast, which also includes the marvelous Gigi Bermingham as Lady Jean Conan Doyle and Melissa Kite as Bess Houdini, as well as an ample and appropriately lit stage (Leigh Allen) with wonderful acoustics (Greg Chun), and the terrific live piano accompaniment of Beverly Craveiro, Flim Flam is a show that all can enjoy about a topic that holds wide and intrigue and appeal.
Scene Around Town
by Harrison Held
A great evening of magical theater last night at the Malibu Playhouse world premiere of Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter. The well written original play by artistic director Gene Franklin Smith features a stellar cast starring Rick D. Wasserman as the legendary Houdini, Melissa Kite as his beautiful but put upon wife/assistant Bess Houdini, Peter Van Norden as his colleague and friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gigi Bermingham as Lady Jean Conan Doyle, Sabra Malkinson as Mina Crandon and Cameron Mitchell Jr. as Dr. Leroi Crandon. The play is directed with flair by Thomas James O’Leary and the story takes place in the summer of 1922 when Houdini and Conan Doyle team up to investigate psychic mediums for the Scientific American Committee. Conan Doyle goes to great lengths to prove that beautiful psychic Mina Crandon and her husband are the real deal in the psychic world while the cynical Houdini is out to prove just the opposite. Houdini knows every trick in the book but becomes convinced that Crandon is real when she makes contact with his beloved deceased mother revealing intimate details that only she and he would know. Kudos to the production team on a great show. It was also fun to see The Magic Castle’s Houdini expert Jim Bentley perform magic before and after the play.
(June 21, 2014)