Credit: Ian Paul Guzzone
Harry Houdini will forever be known as the greatest escape artist of all time, but death can only be defied for so long. Brenna Geffers’ new play “The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini,” which EgoPo Classic Theatre will present as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, tells the tale of a man for whom mortality was decidedly not a parenthetical concern.
“This is very much a story about Houdini’s relationship with the idea of death,” Geffers says. “You have to imagine a man who was so zesty for life that the only way to prove it was to do very death-defying, dangerous tricks.”
The show continues EgoPo’s season-long celebration of American vaudeville, for which Geffers also directed an all-female piece about Jesse James. “I’m interested in myths,” she says. “I think art has a big responsibility to not just celebrate old myths but to create new ones.”
The time machine theme of this year’s PIFA calls for pieces that take the audience back to a specific date in history, a happy coincidence given Geffers’ proclivity for shows that deal with pivotal moments in her characters’ lives. “I’m interested in pieces about the precipice of changes that people experience in life. This play takes place at the moment when Houdini draws his last breath, so it’s the biggest precipice there can be.”
Geffers’ production will seat the audience on the stage, allowing them to share the escape artist’s vantage point as he flashes back through his life and ghostly applause echoes from the uninhabited seats. Houdini’s obsession with the afterlife extended off the stage as well, to his involvement with the spiritualist craze of the day.
“The more I researched Houdini, the more fascinating his life became,” Geffers says. “But anything that wasn’t connected with his relationship with death had to fall by the wayside. Expect to see something more along the lines of a ghost story than a magic show.”
If you go
‘The Life (and Death) of Harry Houdini’
March 27 to April 7
Plays & Players Theatre,
1714 Delancey St.