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Charmed magic of an American dream in ‘The Hope Theory’ at Geffen Playhouse


Helder Guimarães in "The Hope Theory" at Geffen Playhouse (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

The world premiere of “The Hope Theory” – continuing at Geffen Playhouse through June 30 – makes an American immigrant tale magical. Written and performed solo by Portuguese native and magician Helder Guimarães, the show weaves an inspirational story with fun sleight-of-hand tricks to create a magic-carpet ride of good feeling.

 

A big part of that feeling is due to the Guimarães’s likability as an unassuming, bespectacled narrator and magician in a simple shirt and vest (costume design consultant Audrey Lastar). Unlike some magic shows where the audience might feel manipulated to believe something unseen, Guimarães integrates tricks with an immigrant story so disarmingly pure the audience can’t help but cheer him on with every card flip.

 

Another reason for the show’s magic-bubble effect might be the influence of director Frank Marshall, producer of popular film franchises such as Indiana Jones, who has worked with Guimarães on previous shows. Guimarães’s resulting story is infused with humor, humanity and the magical aura of the American dream.

From left: Director Frank Marshall and writer and performer Helder Guimarães on May 2, 2024, opening night of "The Hope Theory" at Geffen Playhouse (Photo by Jordan Strauss)

As Guimarães narrates – enunciating well in accented English, charmingly saying “months’s” for months – we get the classic tale of innocent newcomer making it big, earning the ire of a supposed friend. Despite his “knowledge of deception,” as described in the Playbill bio, Guimarães says he and fellow immigrant girlfriend Catarina refuse to lie to secure employment and are instead deceived by those around them.

 

The audience is audibly astounded to hear of fellow Americans’ exploitative gestures and racist comments as Guimarães recounts his and Catarina’s experiences. We can’t help but root for him to guess the playing cards chosen by seemingly random audience members, or the correct hand of someone holding a quarter, readily forgiving Guimarães if he doesn’t get one right.

 

Guimarães credits his success to a book that proffers something called “the hope theory.” We believe that when Catarina has to go back to Portugal for lack of a job, she returns because he had given her the book to take with her. We believe the book is why she wins a Green Card lottery and we see how effectively she bolsters him with its theory when he is at a low point.

Helder Guimarães in "The Hope Theory" at Geffen Playhouse (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

 We happily ride this carpet of magical thinking because of the openly warm way Guimarães narrates – we want to believe. We may also be lulled by the rhythmic way he arranges modular shelves and objects in the studio apartment set (designed by François-Pierre Couture) as he speaks. We are entranced by the symmetry and décor of the American life he literally builds in front of us.

 

Guimarães morphs into a game-show host at one point – embodying that American institution and its promise of easy money – aided by rotating lights (designed by Martha Carter), music (composed by Jeff Beal) and recorded audience-reactions (sound designed by James Orabowski). It’s a fun meta-moment as we find ourselves hopeful that the audience participant will win $100 if they guess correctly.

 

Illusion is at the heart of theatre, allowing audiences to collectively suspend disbelief to feel something they otherwise wouldn’t. That Guimarães’s story comes with an added layer of illusion – doing unbelievable things, thus making it easier for us to believe in his luck and the power of hope – is icing on an already enriched cake.

 

 

“The Hope Theory” continues at Geffen Playhouse’s Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, through June 30, with shows most Wednesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Three performances will be in Spanish. Tickets range from $45 to $139 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (310) 208-2028 or visiting GeffenPlayhouse.org. Run time is 80 minutes without intermission.

 

 

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