Death and Harry Houdini | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Death and Harry Houdini

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In May 2001 the House Theatre blew into town from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Just two years later--on the strength of their hit The Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan and a slew of hyperbolic notices--they've wrestled their way to the forefront of the storefront scene. Like most overnight successes, the House has enjoyed some outrageous good fortune, showing up at just the right time for critics with a jones to discover the next Lookingglass or Redmoon. But they've also earned their laurels by virtue of dazzling interdisciplinary technique, rock-solid performances, and irresistible enthusiasm. For this remount of their debut, Death and Harry Houdini, writer-director Nathan Allen has maximized every production value, playing to the rafters of the cavernous Viaduct space. This time around he's deepened the darker tones--especially the orientalist depiction of Death and an oedipal subplot drained of humor--achieving something more terrible and sublime, though at the expense of some of the first run's quirky, winking charm. It's a trade-off that unfortunately highlights the Classics Illustrated feel of too much dialogue and too little attention to Harry's titular battle with Death. But as sheer spectacle the show remains top-of-the-line, and the famous "water torture" escape (performed by lead Dennis Watkins) is nothing short of breathtaking. The multifariously talented Shawn Pfautsch returns as Houdini's indispensable foil. Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, 773-251-2195. Through November 1: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 7 PM. $15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.

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