A projector plays a video of Harry Houdini’s assistants strapping him into a chair and securing his hands, feet, and chest with rope. Judy Carter, who plays herself in this autobiographical performance, walks on stage and faces the intimate theater’s audience. As Houdini struggles to escape from the chair on the screen behind her, Carter jokes that there are more impressive things to escape from, like a Verizon contract, Spanx, and…the closet in the 1980s!
Throughout the next 90 minutes, A Death-Defying Escape! tells the story of one of the first female magicians in America, Judy Carter. Lee Costello directs the three-person cast, Carter and two supporting actors (Kevin Scott Allen and Lyndsi LaRose) who play a variety of roles in Carter’s life, including her disabled sister Marsha, her abusive alcoholic father, her depressive narcissistic mother, her Russian grandmother, and her much younger lover.
Young Judy, played by Carter, locks herself in the bathroom at a birthday party. She hugs her magic set, shaking, desperately trying to combat an anxiety attack, paralyzed with fear. Judy’s mother bangs on the bathroom door. She begs Judy to come out of the bathroom and tells her that all the other kids are waiting for the show to begin. In a heartbreaking exchange, Judy asks her mother what her sister, Marsha, did that was so bad that she had to be sent away. Judy’s mother explains that Marsha is institutionalized because they cannot afford to care for her at home.
Young Judy comes out of the bathroom with newfound determination, a goal. As Carter tells the story of her first magic show, she surprises the audience with impressive card tricks and startling illusions. She brings an audience member on stage for some of the magic, then seamlessly slips back into another dramatic act, always breaking up gritty, painful childhood narrative with hilarious and magical moments.
Comedy Workshop Productions Unveils Magician Judy Carter’s Death-Defying Escape
A hostess ignores Judy, scrolling through her phone while she desperately tries to get her attention. Then Judy realizes something: she is invisible. Carter takes this opportunity to break character, turning to the audience and performing an incisive stand-up set about the difficulty of being an older queer woman in Los Angeles.
The play is non-linear, moving backward, forward, and upside-down. This reviewer felt like she was in a new timeline every time she blinked. One moment, Judy coaxes her grandmother, a fearful Jewish Russian immigrant with PTSD, out of the basement where she hides. An older Judy flirts and plays tennis with her much younger social media manager. A young Judy visits Marsha in her assisted living facility.
Carter boomerangs around the stage, as well as her story, with energy and commitment. She dances around waving an enormous LGBTQ+ flag, then reenacts her most traumatic childhood moments. The audience is highly attuned to the emotional tone shifts, laughing wholeheartedly one minute and wiping watery eyes the next, captivated by the highs and lows of Carter’s life.
A Death-Defying Escape! is a dark and comedic escape from reality. In this reviewer’s opinion, this show best fits those who like eccentric, absurd comedy and those who are looking to laugh and cry.
Through May 8, 2022
Saturdays - 8 pm
Sundays - 3pm
Hudson Guild Theater
6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
For tickets and information, visit A Death-Defying Escape! website.
Photos Courtesy of Jenny Graham and Comedy Workshop Productions.
Kevin Scott Allen