Let’s Be Honest

Standing in front of a wall of apple carts filled with objects that will eventually be incorporated into his act, Helder Guimarães tells us that, as a child, his favorite fairy tale was “The Ugly Duckling.”  At first, the relevance is unclear.  But by the end of his rendition, the cards he has been absently shuffling in his hands have transformed from blue into red: voilà.

This moment is fairly typical of Verso, a combination magic show and Moth-style autobiography in which Mr. Guimarães displays both humility and deftness as a storyteller.  He has a wonderful sense of his audience, often misleading us with decent and then good tricks before revealing show-stopping magic that betrays his earlier slights-of-hand as narrative misdirection.  His tone is occasionally whimsical—“Humans have a need to understand the cat when the cat does not care at all,” he says without further explanation—and often blunt, as when he hurries through an interaction with an unwilling member of the crowd: “You have to be onstage.  You don’t want to be onstage?  Fuck it.  We’ll pick someone else.”

Of course, the magic is the most important part and the most difficult to review without depriving it of its wonder.  Suffice it to say that Mr. Guimarães is a master at weaving together card tricks, hypnosis, and facial recognition into a cohesive whole.  Consider his ability to name the cards chosen by audience members by asking a few innocuous questions (“Do you prefer the beach or the country?”) and several pointed ones (“Did you pick a face card?”).  Or the way in which he can get a stranger to guess his iPhone password.  Though he insists on his fascination with chance—“I collect mistakes,” he tells us early on—my sense of Verso as a whole is of a show impeccably arranged in order to create the illusion of spectacular coincidence.

Verso runs through November 27th at New World Stages.  340 West 50th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 50 minutes.  One intermission.

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