Before the Magic Castle tour started, I told Siegfried that I saw Borrowed Time on his suggestion and loved it. He told me that Helder used to do an amazing show called Nothing to Hide with a partner, Derek DelGaudio. They had been doing the act at the Magic Castle for a while, but Neil Patrick Harris thought it was so great it needed a bigger audience, so he set them up with a run at the Geffen Playhouse. That became such a hit, they even took it to New York for off-Broadway performances. Sadly, the show has ended, but Derek DelGaudio is now doing a solo show back at the Geffen called In & Of Itself.
And Frank Oz is the director? Say no more, say no more! I looked up tickets as soon as I got home that night. The critics’ reviews are off the charts!
“It’s hard to imagine any evening at the theater being more personal, more moving, or more magical.” – Los Angeles magazine
“Derek has created the best magic show I’ve ever seen and that might be damning with faint praise. It’s Marcel Duchamp and Andy Kaufman if they could do perfect bottom deals.” — Penn Jillette
I got to the Geffen a bit early and got a drink in the lobby. Unfortunately, they told me that I could not bring food or drink into the theater, so I had to down my beer. Between the lobby and the theater was a small room with a pegboard holding lots of little tags, each one printed with a different “I am…” statement. The staff asked us to each pick one before we went in. I was sad to find that there was no “I am Batman!” tag, so I had to make do:
Then I shuffled into the theater and the usher took the bottom half of my tag as he showed me my seat. The stage was set very minimally, but your eyes are drawn to the six windows in the back wall, mirroring the six-bullet revolver from the show poster.
The show is still on-going, so I will not give away anything that happens. I will tell you, though, that the critics were right. The tricks were amazing, but more than that, the story was moving and it all tied together really well. I did not see the elephant or find the brick. Hopefully you will see the show for yourself and do better than I did.
Atlas Obscura’s tour of the Magic Castle guided by Seigfried Tieber sold out before I could get a ticket. However, it was so extremely popular, they did a repeat performance! I got priority as a waitlister from the first time and quickly secured a ticket this time. I showed up slightly early and enjoyed a drink at the main bar again as I waited for Siegfried and Hadley to arrive. Here is the program from that week:
Magic Castle Tour
The tour itself was very interesting. The Magic Castle is quite a maze, so having a guide was great. Besides showing us the various rooms, Siegfried stopped at an empty parlor to do some tricks for us. Serendipitously, his friend, a fellow magician, happened to be taking some people on a tour, stopped to watch and also perform a bit! (I am sorry, I forgot his name…) Siegfried also told us a lot about the history of the Magic Castle. Every room is packed with magical relics and hidden gems:
Invisible Irma is a ghost who plays piano behind the main bar and takes verbal requests!
I learned that magicians from the Magic Castle actually designed the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, and there is still a miniature of the ride that explains the trick to the ghostly apparitions.
The basement bar, only open on weekends, has a magician bartender who performs tricks as he makes your drinks.
We saw a small group of magicians nervously waiting to audition for membership.
Milt Larson, one of the founders of the Magic Castle, was a consultant and had a cameo in Bedknobs and Broomsticks, one of my favorite classic Disney movies. (He is the unimpressed spectator with the bowler hat in the scene I linked.)
We got to peak our heads into the library, which is for members only.
We saw an instructor setting up for one of the Academy’s classes for aspiring magicians.
The tour concluded with a Q&A session with Siegfried, and then he invited us to stay as long as we liked and check out the various performances. In fact, he highly encouraged seeing as much as we could, because the Academy had just had their annual awards ceremony and many winners were performing this week.
First, I saw Will Houstoun in the Close-Up Gallery. He had just won the Literary Fellowship and you could see it in his act. Each trick started with historical magic trivia, he would perform a related trick, ask a true-or-false question, and then reveal the answer. For example, he told us about one of the oldest tricks, the cups and balls, and its variants such as three-card monte. He performed a sample and then told us about the most famous magician to do this trick, Mattias Buchinger (sometimes Matthew Buckinger to his English audiences), who was able to perform this routine despite being born without hands or feet! Spoiler alert, this one is true!
Next up, I saw Robert Dorian perform in the Parlour of Prestidigitation. He is a mentalist, which I usually enjoy in smaller doses, but not an entire act’s worth. It was a strong showing for the most part, but there was one bit where it was obvious he was getting frustrated with the audience volunteer who could not follow his directions. My favorite trick was flipping through a stack of cards with names of celebrities. He asked an audience member to pick one and said that celebrity would then walk into the room. The secret, he told us, is that he got all of them to show up and wait outside for a name to be called, and then the right one just had to walk in. We could not be sure, though, because the name on the card selected was his own.
Right after Mr. Dorian’s performance, I got back in line for the Parlour of Prestidigitation to see Rob Zabrecky. If you have not seen him before, he has got a very unique style of magic — very Addams Family or Tim Burton. I think this photo says it all:
I think every one of his tricks was great! An early one that got me was when he explained that he was working on his social skills. He asked an audience member to roll a die, and the result corresponded to a numbered card held in a candelabra. On the back of the card was a social convention they would do in front of everyone. (This was explained with a bit of a leer to the cute audience member he had selected.) She was quite relieved to get “Hug” on her card. Little did she know, when he hugged her, we could read the backs of all the other cards, and they all said “Kill.” I want to tell you about more, but I will hold back in case you ever get a chance to see him perform.
After that, I tried to circle back to the Close-Up Gallery to see Bebel, but unfortunately the small room had already filled up, so I had to go home only having seen these three acts.
Unlike most magic shows, Borrowed Time was not set in a theater — this was more of a “pop-up” performance. When you reserve your tickets online, you are only told the general neighborhood where the event will be held. The night before, you get a mysterious note giving you the exact address and some helpful tips regarding logistics.
I showed up maybe 15 minutes early and park down the street at a free meter, then wander on foot to find that the address given is… a little bodega? Confused, I ask the shopkeeps for help. They told me that I had the wrong address, I was on East 2nd Street when I wanted West 2nd Street. I was pretty sure I had punched in the address correctly into my GPS, but started to double-check. They asked that since I was already there, maybe I would consider buying a soda from their broken fridge or taking a picture in their photo booth against the back wall to help them out since the store was not doing too well. I obliged, and stepped into the photo booth.
Just as the final flash went off, a panel on the wall pulled away, and a young man in a tuxedo
invited me into a hidden photo-processing dark room. He was completely mute, but used silent-movie era dialogue cards to prompt me to turn off my phone and inquire if I would like to check my coat. I complied with the request and declined the offer, since I had no coat anyway.
He then walked me back into a chamber which is impossible for me to paint an adequate word picture for. If you have been to any Hendrick’s Gin events with me, that is what the décor was like… something along the lines of a Victorian museum of curiosities set inside of a botanical garden. There was a display case of neatly indexed magical artifacts, a projector playing a silent sepia-tone film of a masked man explaining a card trick, a detailed model train set, a dresser with hundreds of tiny pull-drawers, and more.
As I stood there dumbfounded, the lovely (but also mute) hostess, dressed in very fashionable steampunk (complete with goggles!), slipped me a piece of paper with a riddle on it. I found out that there were small cards hidden around the entire room with one word answers, and endeavored to find the answer to my particular riddle. I compared notes with a few other guests who had arrived before me, and apparently we all had different questions! My sense of wonder grew as I saw more and more detail throughout the room on my quest. When I found what I thought was an appropriate answer card, I brought it and the question back to the hostess, who seemed to be busy writing more at her impromptu stand made of stacked steamer trunks and a hurricane lamp.
She took my question and my answer, quickly checked for accuracy, and then filed them away and handed me a new riddle. After a few cycles of this, instead of getting a new riddle, she handed me a tiny wooden puzzle box. When I managed to solve that, she handed me an old-fashioned skeleton key. I eagerly looked around the room for an appropriate lock, but the young host came back and spoke! He ushered us through a hidden door in a wall of plants to a new room with a large round table, and that is where Helder made his appearance and the main show began!
I do not want to give away too much about this portion of things just in case Helder does this show again in the future, but for me, one of the most memorable moments was when he asked for an audience member to let him borrow a wedding ring. A young lady’s hand shot up, and Helder told us how shocked he was because it was always men volunteering, and asked if she wanted to reconsider. She turned to her husband and asked him if it was OK, but the husband deferred to her. She handed the ring over to Helder, who promptly put it into a tiny manila envelope and ran it through a hand-cranked shredder!
The entire show was, to use a term perhaps overused for magic, “mind-blowing.” And the production value was off the charts, as I inadequately tried to convey to you here. I would highly recommend Borrowed Time or any follow-up show by Helder. Oh, and as we left, the shopkeeps gave us our photo booth pictures as a memento of the show.