Review: The Magic Parlour at Palmer House Hilton (House Theatre of Chicago)

| February 28, 2012
Dennis Watkins in Magic Parlous, House Theatre of Chicago Palmer House      
The Magic Parlour 

Created and Performed by Dennis Watkins 
Palmer House HIlton, 17 E. Monroe (map)
thru July 27  |  tickets: $75   |  more info 
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review


A one-of-a-kind magical experience!


Palmer House Hilton Magic Parlour - Dennis Watkins

The House Theatre of Chicago presents
The Magic Parlour

Review by Lauren Whalen 

I’m generally not a fan of magic. The whole idea of pulling a rabbit out of a hat seems strange to me, and I’m not a big fan of card tricks because I’m not a big fan of cards. I dread audience participation. And perhaps I’m just too cynical. There’s an explanation Dennis Watkins at Magic Parlour - Palmer House Hiltonbehind every illusion, every trick. Right?

Maybe not.

The House Theatre of Chicago has made a name by making its own rules, and The Magic Parlour continues the company’s innovative traditions. This is not your mother’s magic show, or your six-year-old nephew’s. In 75 short minutes, House company member, classically trained actor and third-generation magician Dennis Watkins won’t pull a rabbit out of a habit. But he will perform simple yet grand acts of levitation, perception and illusion, to the surprise and delight of a room full of cynical Chicagoans – and leading this cynical Chicagoan to believe all magicians are not created equal.

Relocated from the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park to the Palmer House Hilton downtown, The Magic Parlour begins in Potter’s Lounge. Guests mingle at the swanky downstairs bar until 10:30 p.m., when they’re summoned to the private performance venue. (The late hour, red-lit bar and golden tickets give the pre-show mingle a “Mulholland Drive” feel, minus Naomi Watts and the eventual nightmare.) Beer and wine are at the ready in the small, ornate room as the happy chirps in the hotel’s magnificent lobby fade away. Once the door to the small, intimate room closes, the mystery begins.

Resplendent in the requisite tuxedo, Watkins possesses the gift of gab and quick hands one expects from a magician. What sets Watkins apart from his contemporaries is his utterly magnetic personality. His quips aren’t cheesy but genuinely hilarious. He speaks fondly of his grandfather, a sleight of hand master who opened one of the country’s first mail-order magic shops. He starts small, pulling a willing volunteer out of the audience for a little help with a trick.

And as the night gets going, the audience’s gasps get louder. The tricks get more elaborate, involving an astounding array of props, extraordinary feats with a deck of cards and mind reading that is truly mind-blowing. (Don’t blame it on the alcohol. Many viewers, including me, weren’t drinking.) If it’s possible, Watkins becomes even more confident and charismatic. His elfin features and swift humor give him a sweetness that’s slightly dangerous and thus very compelling. By the time Watkins completes his third trick, formerly reluctant audience members are clamoring to be called upon.

Even me. Three-quarters into the show, Watkins summoned me to the front. My initial self-consciousness soon faded as I followed Watkins’ instructions, giggled at his puns and was eventually wowed by his extrasensory perception prowess. And I was reluctant to sit back down.

After the show ended to wild applause, I found myself on the elevator with a few fellow audience members. Bonded by the most unique of experiences, we wondered: how did he do it? There was no stage, the venue was tiny, yet no one could unlock the many mysteries we’d just witnessed.

On the train ride home, I realized something: I didn’t know how he did it, and I didn’t care. The Magic Parlour transformed a roomful of tired adults into wide-eyed, wide awake innocents. And that in itself is Watkins’ most impressive trick.

Rating: ★★★½

The Magic Parlour continues through July 27th at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe (map), with performances Fridays at 10:30pm.  Tickets are $75 (beer and wine included), and are available by phone (773-769-3832) or online here (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 75 minutes with no intermission)

The Magic Parlour - House Theatre at Palmer House Hilton


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Category: 2012 Reviews, House Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, Palmer House, Performance Art - Circus

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