When a play is extended four times, a theater lover in LA (if only part-time) almost has to buy a ticket. In my case, I bought a midseason subscription to the Geffen Playhouse and the ticket to Nothing to Hide and Coney Island Christmas--the funny, heartwarming Donald Marguiles play I saw twice--came with the subscription.
A rare January traffic jam in Santa Barbara kept me from the play directed by Neil Patrick Harris and compelled me to buy a ticket at the subscriber discount (62 rather than the unusually high 125). This past weekend, I had the great pleasure of seeing the show which has become the A-List ticket in LA for good reason. Nothing to Hide plays in the small theater where I saw Build in November, but since then, they have put in stadium seating so it doesn't feel quite as small as it did.
The Geffen is surely one of the cultural gems of the Westside. With the Broad, it allows Westsiders to see quality theater, music and dance without crossing the figurative DMZ that is the 405 freeway.
I read the LA Weekly and try to keep up on the burgeoning LA theater scene—which 15 years ago did exist on this scale—but missed news of the IT-themed drama. I was intrigued both by the description of the play on the Geffen FB page and, as a budget-conscious girl, the contest for Election Day: post a picture with a voting sticker and win two free tickets. (Very few people entered and I think we all won; this in no way mitigated my delight at having been one of the six!)
Build was a thought-provoking and well-executed one-act with three talented young actors about two video game entrepreneurs and ex-partners, one of whom has had a meltdown and lives in a bathrobe in his grandmother’s old apartment mourning his ex-girlfriend.
Actually, it’s an open question whom he misses more: the actual girlfriend no longer in his life or the girl with whom he interacts in her absence. Said girlfriend is certainly more real than poor Teo’s imaginary one but not without her ontological and logistical problems as she is a creation of artificial intelligence.
After a great late-night happy hour at Napa Grille, I felt remiss for not having taken advantage of the Geffen for so many years and jumped at the outstanding subscription deal then running. This weekend, I will be back to see The Gift by acclaimed Australian playwright Joanna Murray-Smith about two radically different couples who become fast friends on vacation, starring Kathy Baker, Chris Mulkey, James Van Der Beek and Jamie Ray Newman.
The premise of The Gift particularly interests me as a deliberately childless woman who places friendship at the very top of life's priorities and more, views children as significant obstacles to the cultivation of new friendships and the maintenance of old ones, not to mention the appreciation of culture and for reasons both financial and temporal, travel itself.
Nothing to Hide is a mere 65 minutes which leaves you wishing the evening would continue at Napa Grille (where I always go after the show) with the equally charming Derek Delgaudio, an artist and magician who founded the experimental performance art duo, A. Bandit, and the Portuguese Helder Guimares, the youngest ever World Champion of Card Magic in 2006 at the age of just 23.
Delguadio reminds me a little of a young, thin Vincent D'Onofrio, striking a perfect balance between cockiness and self-deprecation. He's the guy you want your daughter to bring home to the Palisades from college instead of the robotic , cold premed student or the underachieving, dull gamer who listens to death metal all day long in spite (or perhaps because!) of his high IQ and good family.
Derek and Helder, as they call themselves, did schmooze briefly afterward but I became lost in reverie browsing the old Geffen theater posters by the restrooms and reminiscing about the Linda Lavin show in 1998 which was last the performance I saw before Build. By the time I wrenched myself back to 2013, everyone was gone.
As a child, I attended a show or two at the Magic Castle with now TV writer/producer Chris Levinson (Charmed, Law and Order)—a classmate and friend from St. Augustine (an industry school in Santa Monica now known as Crossroads Elementary)--and her parents, writer/producer Richard Levinson (Columbo, Murder She Wrote) and stage actress Roseanna Huffman.
Some ten years later, my mother took me to a fundraiser at that strange, private and exclusive venue. I had therefore not been to a magic show, not even a cheesy, terrible one, as Derek quips this show is not in one of his sarcastic asides. Both have appeared at the Magic Castle where Neil Patrick Harris is President of the Academy of Magical Arts and “Nothing to Hide” made me long for an invitation to Hollywood's mecca of magic.
Derek and Helder have the kind of chemistry you expect from a classic comic duo together for decades. As I walked to my car, I had a big, dopey smile on my face because while their sleight of hand does indeed boggle the mind, I was genuinely touched by the only "message" moment of the play: Magic is all gone in a world with iPhones, iPads and 3D (paradoxically because these devices make the magical commonplace). That, as Derek put it, a bunch of people got “dolled up” and braved LA traffic on a Saturday night to sit in a small theater with complete strangers in the collective hope of witnessing something inexplicable and mysterious is a kind of magic in itself.
There were gestures in the direction of a message with the early mention of the distinction between the supernatural and the supernatural and the exhortation to look at things from a different and perhaps uncomfortable perspective, but these were not much pursued. As a literary critic by training (a Ph.D. Candidate in English at UCSB by way of Yale), I marveled at the subtlety with which the vignettes are woven together. The show is loosely structured with plenty of margin for error--ad libbing and riffing off the audience even at the Geffen with a heavy industry crowd is chancy--and yet inexorably comes together as a unity by the end.
Nothing to Hide is a kind of meta-play in that the conventional structure of a play with even a highly diffuse plot is immediately renounced in the opening scene : an entirely silent card cutting contest which contains more emotional content and character development than whole episodes of many TV shows (and certainly, the worthless reality shows littering cum defacing the television landscape).
Like much good art in which content and form are in dialogue, the play operates on two levels Nothing to Hide is about magic but it also asks how a play about magic can work at all. J.L Austin's How to Do Things with Words defined a performative utterance as one in which the language performed the action it described. The quintessential example was the “I do” in a marriage ceremony.
Years after Austin (via John Searle's theory of speech acts), performativity became hot in literary and critical theory. Ever so gently, the show conjures up the performative for an audience member like me with a literary critical background. Without being heavy-handed or ponderous, the show questions the categories of truth and falsehood and perhaps more important, the source of our attachment to the certitude those categories purportedly provide.
Nothing to Hide continues through Feburary 24th and even at 125 dollars per ticket for non-subscribers (substantially higher than most Geffen shows), it's money well spent.