Monday, January 14, 2013

Invisible, Inc. by Paul Menzer, Hidden Room Theatre at Rolllins Theatre, Long Center, January 11 - 20, 2013

Invisible, Inc. Paul Menzer Hidden Room Theatre Austin TX

Austin Live Theatre review

by Dr. David Glen Robinson and Michael Meigs

Outside the Austin skyline was bright and magical as ever while enthusiastic crowds gathered for last Thursday’s preview and Saturday’s performance of Invisible, Inc. The Hidden Room Theatre created a delicious, dark and intriguing world in the Rollins black box theatre at the Long Center, emerging from the secret shadows of the historic York Rite Masonic Temple on W. 7th Street and going big time. It's too bad that the company and its director and proprietary matriarch Beth Burns can't occupy that venue for a longer term, because Invisible, Inc. is an elegant and witty entertainment. It’s their first theatre outing since last year’s multiple-award-winning Rose Rage.

One special appeal is that its leads are Robert Matney and Liz Fisher, a young husband and wife pair who enjoy the sort of respect and affection in Austin that Alfred Lunt and Margot Fontanne had on Broadway from the 1930's through the 1960's. Noël Coward wrote his 1933 Design for Living for that famous couple; coincidentally, Austin Shakespeare will be doing that work in this same venue in just a few weeks. Now, there's a thought experiment: substituting Matney and Fisher for Miller and Merino.

Burns presents a gorgeously designed package. Ia Ensterä's set makes the black box into a Manhattan highrise living room with a broad window at deep center stage, decorated in Art Deco via Bela Lugosi. At the audience's far left stands an upright piano that's part of the same playing space; at the far right there's a tumble of furniture representing a garret somewhere far downtown. With furniture shifts the central playing space can belong to either of these. With a shift in lighting, the flare of a spotlight and a change in the image at deep center stage, the space becomes a theatre complete with proscenium.

Invisible Inc., Paul Menzer, Hidden Room Theatre, Austin TXPatrons desiring premium seating can pay a bit extra to settle at one of the four-person nightclub tables on the floor with the performing space, where they'll be handsomely welcomed and entertained by an amiable professional magician who does up-close illusions and prestidigitation. On Saturday evening the company's Master of Magic (coach) J.D. Stewart was resplendent, gregarious and astonishing. He left us dumbfounded with his skills. We have no idea how those playing cards flew invisibly through the air or those coins appeared impossibly at his bidding.

Invisible, Inc. is soaked with atmosphere and its spookiness is boosted when the lights first go down and that upright piano erupts into lengthy evocative passes of the keys by the invisible Graham Reynolds. His score for MIDI-assisted player piano punctuates the action with the same dexterity as the big Wurlitzer organs at the cinema palaces of the 1930's.

Menzer’s play offers us the world of vaudeville magic acts and magicians in the 1930’s. The potential for a peek behind the magician’s cabinet is immense, and the playwright gives us several such peeks on our way through the story. The characters present magic turns in every scene, their very gestures accented with flash paper. Handcuffs fall off wrists; cards appear and disappear; straitjackets and cabinets cannot contain them. The disappearance of objects, people and reality raises the tension and the ante, and the onslaught of illusions challenges the audience’s perceptions and certitudes.

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