Tag: Todd Robbins

Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Guy: Johnny Thompson Honored by LA Critics

Johnny Thompson and Pam as Great Tomsoni & Co.A while back we gave our review of Teller and Todd Robbins disturbing but very entertaining show Play Dead then showing at The Geffen Playhouse here in Los Angeles.

The writing was fantastic and matched the outstanding performance given by Mr. Robbins.  The magic was, though, was truly magical.

Today we learned through Teller’s contribution to Alan Watson’s always jam-packed with goodness Magic New Zealand newsletter that Johnny Thompson’s work to make the illusions and effects so effective has been recognized with a LA Drama Critics Circle award.

Mr. Thompson has an encyclopedic knowledge of our wonderful art and its history.  According to Penn Jillette, there is no one who knows more about the subject.  With his wife Pam, Mr. Thompson often performs as the hysterical and technically brilliant The Great Tomsoni & Co.  Though we have seen the act many times, we still embarrass ourselves with our high-pitched, almost girl-like laughing fits each time.

For as good as he is – and we agree with Mr. Jillette that he the elite of the elites – he does not engage in the type of self-promotion and chest-thumping we see from lesser-lights in our industry.  He does not even make a big deal of the fact that he is modest.

We get that “business” is an integral part of the term show-biz and that self-promotion is often the only type of promotion available to a young performer.  We accept that hiding one’s light under a bushel basket is an inefficient career move and only adds to one’s carbon footprint.  But it is refreshing to encounter performers who are really, really good and are not afraid to be judged solely on their work.

But Mr. Thompson could be modest, talented, lack the need to proclaim his superiority and still be a jerk.  In fact, he would deserve to be a jerk if he wanted.

But Mr. Thompson is decidedly not a jerk.

He is not dismissive of magicians who are just honored to meet him at a regional magic convention – say in Toledo – and seem unable to speak in complete sentences in his presence.  He does not dismiss those same magicians who encounter him, say, in Dallas at a national convention.  In fact, he is the kind of person who would invite that lesser-talented magician to sit and take part in a late-hour conversation in the lobby area with professionals the gawking magician had only seen on television or read about in magic magazines.

Mr. Thompson must have off-days.  He must occasionally feel it is unnecessary to cross a room to introduce himself – as if that would be necessary – to a magician/fan at a magic conference  set in some bucolic Michigan magic mecca setting like the Abbott’s Get-Together.   There must be times when he does not feel the need to engage in conversation with lesser magicians about their shared roots in Chicago.  We have never seen him on those days and, significantly, never read of others seeing him in that way.

Congratulations to Mr. Thompson for his award and recognition from a notoriously tough group of people to please, The LA Drama Critics.  We, as magicians, are fortunate to have people of his ability and demeanor in our art.

Todd Robbins & Teller’s Play Dead: Our Review

Inside Magic Image of Play Dead PosterTodd Robbins and Teller’s show Play Dead nearly killed us.

We had an opportunity to see the very unique play at the beautiful David Geffen Playhouse (presumably named for someone, likely David Geffen), in Westwood, California.  We would like to tell  you more about the intricate stories and spectacular effects but Mr. Robbins swore the entire audience to secrecy.  As a consequence, this will be a very vague, but enthusiastic review.

We deliberately avoided learning about the show.  We wanted to be surprised.  We trusted Teller and Mr. Robbins to entertain and likely scare us but had no real understanding of what was planned.  And while we did not search out summaries or plot lines before attending,  we knew to expect the unexpected thanks to a warning included on our ticket invoice:

The stories and events of this interactive production contains some disturbing images, strobe effect, theatrical haze, interactivity, brief moments of nudity and a great deal of fun. Audiences are surrounded by sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead.  Material may be inappropriate for the faint of heart – or those under 18.

Disturbing images, check.  Theatrical haze, interactivity and some nudity, check to the third power.  Surrounded by “sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead,” yep and then some.

We did not, however, notice any “strobe effects.”  It could be there was a strobe effect but our eyes were so tightly shut that we did not notice.

This is a scary experience, expertly presented.

Mr. Robbins has the voice, stature and disarming smile to make the event truly terrifying.  He works the audience well and leaves it feeling vulnerable.  Unlike a very scary movie or traditional play, there is no sense of safety here.  He establishes very quickly that anything could happen and, more disturbingly, could happen to any individual audience member.

The dark is a scary place and total darkness is totally scary – especially with Mr. Robbins’ sonorous instruction and macabre soliloquy.  As he points out, his stories are true and the people he discusses actually lived and moved among us.  When the lights go out, we are essentially on our own.  We are forced to trust someone who has already established he is not trustworthy.

Technically, the play is masterfully done.  The set is beautiful, the costuming is perfect, the lighting (when on) is just right.  We have no idea how the effects are accomplished and that is fine by us.  We love being fooled and amazed.  We’re not so crazy about being scared though.

We sat in front of a couple who were having some problems in their relationship.  The experience could have brought them closer but it didn’t.

She:  I hate this kind of thing.

He:  Since when, it’s just like a movie.

She:  This is not like a movie.  You lied.

He:  I didn’t know what was going to happen.

She:  B*** s***!

That conversation was just after the first blackout of the evening.  Things did not get better for the two.  We wanted to help but we also wanted them to stop talking.  They did stop talking – about halfway through the show – and she stormed out as soon as the play was complete.  We are guessing this spat was probably a symptom of other issues with which they were struggling.

Did we enjoy the show?  We think so.

We walked to the nearest well-lit store after congratulating Mr. Robbins in the lobby.  As we loitered in the aisles of Target, our concern about the company’s recent privacy breach was greatly diminished.  We were just happy to be in a familiar and safer environment.

Play Dead is safe but in the darkened theater, it does not always feel that way.  That is quite a trick and well-worth the price of admission.

Inside Magic Review: Five Out of Five Stars!

Teller & Todd Robbins New Play – We’re Scared Already

Inside Magic Image of Play Dead PosterThe tension mounts as we look forward to seeing Play Dead at the Geffen Playhouse near UCLA tomorrow night.  The show is written by Todd Robbins and Teller so we bought our ticket without even checking it out.

C’mon.  Teller and Todd Robbins.  We would see a show by either one of them and so the two of them together makes a must see.

Once we received our ticket, we read more about the show and even perused the warning notice provided on the theater’s website:

Performance notes: The running time for Play Dead is approximately 75 minutes with no intermission. Due to the theatrical and interactive nature of this performance, there is no late seating, no re-admittance, and formal wear is not advised. Contact the box office for details. Please note: This production contains strobe effects, theatrical haze, nudity, interactive elements and themes that may be inappropriate for some patrons.

“Formal wear is not advised.”  What does that mean?  We are even more anxious because we are on the front row – in the line of fire.

We were able to get such a great seat because we only bought one ticket.  The show is otherwise sold out.  We tried to get some of the editorial, advertising and accounting staff to join us but she said no.

It should be a wild experience.  We will provide a full report assuming we survive the evening.

Teller and Todd Robbins Bring Death to Play Off-Broadway


Teller and Todd Robbins Bring the New Show "Play Dead" to Life this FallLet us avoid the debate that often ends conversations between magicians.  One cannot mention Penn & Teller without the fans of Penn or Teller entering into an instant squabble.  

"Oh, Teller never talks, that makes him mysterious," one member of our craft may say.

"Yes, but Penn is so much taller," observes a detailed-oriented pal.  "He can eat food off the heads of many if not most of his average audience member."

"Yes," responds the first magician, "However Teller does talk when he is not performing as the character."

"Okay," concedes the obsessive-compulsive performer. "But Penn remains tall no matter whether he is in character or not.  In that way, he is far more consistent than the flighty Teller.  You know what you get with Penn — a tall magician, juggler with glasses."

"Point well taken," the first magician says in resignation.  "Still, he is mysterious.  His silence makes him mysterious no matter what."

We are big fans of Penn and Teller.  We like them both equally; just as a mother cat would feel about her kittens.   They are special in their own ways. 

One of Teller's specialness is literary.  In fact, he would likely note that "specialness" is not a proper word — that is how literate he is.  Nevertheless, he does more than make words go together in patterns generally accepted by those who decide what proper grammar is.  He makes them go together in such a wonderful way.  He has a gift for writing and we consider his gift to us.  When you read his work, it is as if he is writing to tell you — no one else — something interesting. 

He has written a new Off-Broadway play with Todd Robbins called Play Dead.  Teller is also the director of the play and Todd Robbins performs. 

The play begins its open-ended run on October 21, 2010 and the "official press opening" will be Wednesday, November 10th.

The advance sheets summarize the play thusly:

Teller and Todd Robbins invite Death out to play in PLAY DEAD, a new spirit-shaking Off-Broadway show that explores themes of death, darkness and deception. As the guide for the evening, Todd Robbins draws audiences into an unknown haunted world full of frightful surprises and diabolical laughter. Although very much a theatrical work, it is hardly a typical "play," but rather a dramatic, unnerving thriller – here and now in an "abandoned" theater, illuminated by a single ghostlight – in which audiences test their nerves and face their fears as they are surrounded by ethereal sights, sounds and even touches of the returning dead – all achieved by wry, suspenseful storytelling and uncanny stage illusions.

You can check the full article and prepare for what sounds like a humdinger of a show by visiting Broadway World