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Theater Review: The Hope Theory

The Geffen Playhouse 2023/2024 Season production of The Hope Theory. Photo by Justin Bettman.

Few artists mastered Zoom theater as effectively or satisfyingly as creative team Helder Guimarães and Frank Marshall, who together sold out hundreds of performances to their two COVID-era magic productions The Present and The Future, respectively. Three years since their last collaboration, Guimarães and Marshall return to Geffen Playhouse for their fourth production– —and this time, it’s in person. 

Director Frank Marshall and playwright and performer Helder Guimarães at the May 2, 2024 Opening Night of The Hope Theory. Photo by Jordan Strauss.

The Hope Theory is everything returning audiences crave from the duo—poignant, thoughtful, and magical. Newcomers attracted by the allure of magic (or perhaps those who weren’t able to procure tickets to The Present) will have their minds thoroughly blown, and may perhaps find themselves unexpectedly affected by the show’s emotional depth.

Written and performed by storyteller and magician Helder Guimarães, The Hope Theory is an autobiographical one-man show detailing his experience immigrating to the U.S. from Portugal in order to pursue a career in entertainment. Alone with his then-girlfriend (now wife!) Catarina, the pair try to build a home together in the City of Angels and an industry of insiders. 

The show is directed by legendary Hollywood producer/director Frank Marshall, known for franchises such as Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, whose skills deftly transfer from screen to stage. The Hope Theory runs 80 minutes without intermission; plan ahead for traffic as there is no late seating or re-entry. Additionally, The Hope Theory will be the first production at Geffen Playhouse to offer performances entirely in Spanish (on May 19, and June 7).

Playwright and performer Helder Guimarães in The Hope Theory at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Frank Marshall. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

Taking its name from The Handbook of Hope by Charles R. Snyder, The Hope Theory centers around just that–the theory that hopeful people are more likely to achieve, and at higher levels, than people who are apathetic or even hopeless. At first glance, this concept seems obvious: of course people who aren’t hopeless work harder and achieve more. But as Guimarães recounts the years of xenophobia, those industry friends who would sooner take advantage of him than support him, and the failures of the U.S. immigration system, his and Catarina’s hope for the future becomes an increasingly powerful feat.

Guimarães’ message that hope is an incredibly powerful, almost magical force, is well-made, a thesis he defends with a series of mind-blowing sleight-of-hand tricks that become progressively more astounding. Subverting the idea that magic shows must be the kind of high spectacle production you’d expect on the Vegas Strip, The Hope Theory is understated and sentimental while maintaining its essential theatricality and intrigue. Guimarães’ uses his illusions like experiments in a lab: the tricks themselves are impressive, but they point to something greater and more universal, like the existence of gravity. 

Playwright and performer Helder Guimarães in The Hope Theory at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Frank Marshall. Photo by Jeff Lorch.

To answer your burning questions: yes the magic is incredible, and no, you won’t be able to figure out how he did it. Unlike large-scale magic shows that depend on well-rigged equipment and set-pieces, Guimarães’ sleight-of-hand deception relies almost entirely on his own deft maneuvering and misdirection. These tricks are well-suited to the intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre—audience members are up close, in person, and very often involved in the illusions at play. Word to the wise: Guimarães runs his show like a Socratic seminar; you never know who will be called on, so be prepared to participate!

Over the course of the show, Guimarães repeatedly reminds the audience, “Never take freedom for granted.” What starts as a timely and literal reminder of civic responsibility slowly unearths an even more basic and essential liberty—your freedom to choose what to think, and even more importantly, how to think. 

The Hope Theory runs through June 30th at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles. Showtimes start at 8:00 pm Wednesdays-Fridays, 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm Saturdays, and 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm Sundays. Spanish language performances will be offered on May 8th and 19th and June 7th. Tickets run $39-$129 and can be purchased here.

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Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner
Sika Lonner is a Los Angeles based actress and writer. Her training includes Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), Academy of Dramatic Art - University of Zagreb, and Michael Tschechow Studio Berlin.

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