The Geffen Playhouse premiered their first production in the newly launched series Geffen Stayhouse, “THE PRESENT”, an interactive, virtual play starring master illusionist and storyteller Helder Guimarães. It’s an innovative way to keep theatre alive during the pandemic and the result is entertaining and surprisingly moving. Audience members purchase their ticket in advance (one per household) and you are mailed a mysterious package several days before the show. You must not open the box until the show, which builds suspense and you are asked to do several things with the enclosed items during the performance. No sleeping allowed! And, fair warning, you actually really need to pay close attention as some of the instructions are quite precise.
So, first of all, like everything right now, this is a Zoom meeting! It has become the everyday norm for just about everyone on the planet these days. At the designated time, you are checked in by your house manager and at 8pm, your host, Helder Guimarães, introduces himself and launches into an autobiographical tale of his time spent in isolation with his grandfather after suffering a near fatal car accident. Throughout his tale, Guimarães performs illusions, slight of hand card tricks that, given the circumstances, feel all the more extraordinary. You are on Zoom with up to 25 households and everyone participates, sometimes together, sometimes one person is chosen to choose cards, and one lucky individual ends up being part of something quite spectacular.
I was moved by this experience for a couple of reasons, one was simply the act of being part of a live audience of strangers brought together to participate in a performance. It felt…hopeful! And then there was Guimarães’ beautiful storytelling. The story of this isolation unfolds as we glimpse his love and need for magic and how he came to understand his once distant grandfather through this hardship. The “present” turns out to mean not only the idea of learning to live in the moment, because really, that is all any of us have, but also the gift that it brings.
It is a worthy endeavor and a delightful way to spend an evening, engaged in a moment of magic.
The Present is now playing in your living rooms through Geffen Stayhouse through July 5, 2020. Directed by Frank Marshall. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday with a running time of 70 minutes.
Tickets are currently priced at $85.00 per household. Available by phone at 310.208.2028 or online at www.geffenplayhouse.org. Fees may apply. Given the unique nature and logistics of this production, tickets must be purchased at least 10-14 days in advance of any given performance date.