Invisible, Inc.

The Hidden Room Theatre's impressive new show is both a play about magic and a performance of magic

Prestidigitation agitation: Robert Matney (l) and Joseph Garlock as the feuding magicians in <i>Invisible, Inc.</i>
Prestidigitation agitation: Robert Matney (l) and Joseph Garlock as the feuding magicians in Invisible, Inc. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Brock)

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside
Through Jan. 20
Running time: 1 hr., 30 min.

The most important part of a magic trick is the finish. You can dazzle 'em with showmanship, but if the final reveal doesn't deliver, the trick falls flat. Beth Burns, director of Hidden Room Theatre's Invisible, Inc. – the world premiere of a new script by playwright Paul Menzer – seems very conscious of this fact. The play is an exercise in stakes-raising, teasing out its plot elements slowly and letting the story unfold at a deliberate pace. It balances the setup/punch line style repartee of a screwball comedy with onstage magic tricks and moments of real gravity as it unfolds its noir mystery. And when it comes time for the big reveal, it pays off the premise. Voila!

Invisible, Inc. is the name both of the play and the magician's troupe the play follows. Led by Sebastian Topflyte (Robert Matney), Invisible, Inc.'s team of tricksters – comprised of the behind-the-scenes Doc Isoceles (Todd Kassens) and Question Mark (Londoner Laurence Pears, returning to the Austin stage after a show-stealing appearance in Hidden Room's Rose Rage), and Topflyte's stage assistant, Ladyfingers (Liz Fisher) – are the hottest thing in Prohibition-era New York stage magic. That doesn't sit well with aspiring magician Cord McCade (Joseph Garlock), whose downtown, undershirt-and-blue-jeans approach to stagecraft offers a more visceral take on the illusory arts than Topflyte's tux, top hat, and tails. When a detective stops by the Invisible, Inc. office to inform Topflyte that his niece has disappeared at McCade's show, the conflict between the two stops being one-sided. The magicians square off against each other as Topflyte's team seeks the girl, and McCade attempts to turn Ladyfingers to his own side.

The play puts a significant load on the shoulders of Matney, who has to be by turns oafish and self-obsessed, capable of selling nuanced drama, and able to pull off actual stage magic for an up-close audience, but he's more than up to the challenge. With so much plot and trickery to get through, there isn't much time for character moments – and Matney gets the best of those – but Garlock deserves mention for the intensity he brings to McCade, balancing a palpable menace with a performer's charm, while Fisher's easy chemistry with her male co-stars makes her compelling.

Ultimately, though, Invisible, Inc. is more than just a well-acted performance of a tightly plotted mystery, and this is where Burns distinguishes herself: It's both a play about magic and a performance of magic. That goes beyond Matney and Garlock's tricks, which are impressive on their own: The entire production is built around little pieces of magic – from the music provided by the player piano (reproducing a performance by Graham Reynolds) to the actual, onstage gunshots – and culminates in a reveal that pays off the mystery the play has set up, just the way a good trick must. Voila.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
Examining the Sins and Virtues of Hypermasculine Theatre
When is violence in theatre too much?

Shanon Weaver, Dec. 9, 2016

Making Room to Play
Making Room to Play
Create Space Austin kicks off the drive to secure more performing venues in the city

Elizabeth Cobbe, April 15, 2016

More Arts Reviews
"Andy St. Martin: The Weight" at Prizer Arts & Letters
In his newest show, the artist is, as ever, nothing if not commitment incarnate

Wayne Alan Brenner, Feb. 26, 2021

<i>The Swallowed Man</i> by Edward Carey
The Swallowed Man
The Austin author's rich and strange take on Pinocchio has Geppetto tell the story from the belly of the giant fish

Robert Faires, Feb. 5, 2021

More by Dan Solomon
The Time of Their Lives
The Time of Their Lives
Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane reflect on the 12 years they spent making 'Boyhood'

July 18, 2014

We Were Nothing
Poison Apple's latest, about a friendship affected by social media, provides little to engage with

Dec. 20, 2013


Invisible Inc., Austin theatre, Paul Menzer, Beth Burns, Robert Matney, Joseph Garlock, Todd Kassens, Laurence Pears, Liz Fisher, Graham Reynolds

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle