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Theater Review: The Present, a Magical Take on Past and Now

geffen playhouse, the present, box
A ticket to The Present includes a mysterious box to use during the performance.

Magic without context is just card tricks, and every kid knows how to do a card trick. It’s the patter, the story, the relationship between magician and audience that makes true magic.  And The Present, a world premiere presented by the Geffen Playhouse, is magic.

Writer/performer/magician Helder Guimarães begins by telling the audience this is not his first time in quarantine. His unique story ties his previous experience to our current stay-at-home time and serves as the foundation for a series of magic tricks. The entire audience (limited to 25 per show) participates, using their own props, which have arrived in the mail from the Geffen: a mysterious “present” whose contents are not to be revealed until the show begins. In fact, the sealed box serves as the ticket, and all participants are asked by the House Manager, Mel, to show their boxes and be checked in.

Mel also lays out the rules: nothing about fire exits, but she does touch on no talking and opening any hard candies before the show begins. The audience is onscreen, in a 25-square grid, unmuted and able to applaud and answer questions from Guimarães, as he chooses random numbers corresponding to audience members to assist in the tricks. Being a visible participant encourages getting dressed and reveling in socializing without a mask.

The Present involves card tricks and wordplay (including its title), but just as a magician never reveals his secrets, a good reviewer avoids spoilers. Suffice it to say there are plenty of surprises. The audience makes many choices, and Guimarães calls them all correctly. Even what appeared to be a couple of errors turned out to be user (audience) error. The star batted 1.000.

Besides proficient magic and a compelling story, The Present is technically and logistically flawless. My “present” (box to be opened during the performance) arrived five days in advance. Mel checked everyone in smoothly, and, like in a theater lobby, you could see other patrons. Unlike a real theater, however, you could also see their names, in the lower left corner of their Zoom boxes, like virtual badges. This added a layer of fun to the proceeding, as did Mel’s asking people where they were Zooming in from. (At my performance, the answers were mostly in the LA area, with one from Oakland.)

Despite warnings about glitches and internet issues, there were none in the performance I saw. This is a fun show that puts quarantine in perspective and ends on a note of hope. What could be more magical than that?

The Present has been extended twice, and will now play through August 16th. The most recent extension sold out immediately. To be notified if seats become available, click here. For more information, check out the FAQs.

Other Online Theater Options

The Fountain Theatre

At 5pm on Wednesday, May 20th, Tony Award nominee Kathleen Chalfant heads a large Fountain Theatre cast for a live online reading. The show, Detained by France-Luce Benson, is a new docudrama that explores the rippling impact of mass deportations. The reading can be accessed on Facebook,  YouTube and Zoom.

Skylight Theatre Company

The Skylight holds weekly presentations of uplifting stories, written specifically for the online medium. Viewable live on Facebook or YouTube, the series includes an interactive conversation with audiences afterwards. On May 21 at 3pm, an aspiring stand-up comedian tries out new material in And the Void Says, written by Leesa Kim and Directed by Sarah Hahm, starring Miya Kidomo and Diona Burnett.

Broadway on Demand

The Broadway on Demand streaming platform has announced “30 Days of Opening Nights” with exclusive online offerings including online streaming premieres of Broadway shows. Bandstand is scheduled for Memorial Day, May 25 at 4:30 PM. Allegiance on Friday, May 29 at 4:30 PM will be preceded by a llive virtual red carpet with George Takei, Telly Leung and other members of the original Broadway company. All events can be streamed directly at, where a complete schedule of events can also be found.

Intimate Theater in Los Angeles

Finally: In a promising development, the Artistic Directors of 44 99-Seat non-profit theatres in Los Angeles are holding weekly roundtable discussions to plan for the post-coronavirus re-emergence of theatre in Los Angeles. The group released a statement that says, in part, “Theater is a collaborative art form, in every sense of the word. We are stronger together as one community regardless of company size. While the doors to our theatres may be shut, our artists continue to innovate and utilize new technology to serve Los Angeles and promote the importance of theatre.”

One of the outcomes of the meetings is expected to be an online Intimate Theatre Festival, with a Live LA Theatre Festival in the works once everyone is able to gather again. Partnering with LA Stage Alliance/onStage.LA, the group hopes to establish a central hub for all Los Angeles theatre activities.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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