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A Little Bit Of Magic––Dennis Watkins Style 
Chicago magician's show is a whole lot more than "Now you see it, now you don't"
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   WHEN describing Dennis Watkins’ magic act, observers and critics alike use words such as “remarkable,” “astonishing” and “mind-boggling.” Some even go so far as to say he “is without obvious peer.” That’s high praise for the man who has put in a lifetime of work to achieve that level of perfection, beginning as a small child who learned everything he could about magic from his grandfather. 
   “I grew up with the idea of becoming a magician because my grandfather, a professional magician, owned a magic shop in Dallas for more than 30 years,” Watkins says. “Being around my grandfather, I fell in love with magic, and he shared his knowledge with me since there aren’t many places one can go to get a formal education in magic.”
    The education that Watkins got is being displayed at various locations around Chicago, including his regular presentation of “The Magic Parlour” at the Palmer House Hilton on Friday nights. It’s a perfect evening of illusion, laughter and amazement. With seating for about 35 people, the 75- to 90-minute, highly interactive presentation is designed to be an intimate, parlor-style magic show that takes place in a private dining room with wood-paneled walls and a small fireplace. The show features classic close-up magic (card tricks, etc.), mind reading and mentalism, Watkins says, for an audience “that really likes to have a good time and experience something different and, perhaps, even something special.”
    Watkins––who also performs at private parties, conventions and college events––established himself as an actor, writer, director and founding member of the House Theatre of Chicago, which produced “The Magic Parlour” when it began three years ago at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Parker, and it continues to produce the show at the Palmer House Hilton. In addition to “The Magic Parlour,” the award-winning magician/actor is also involved in other noted presentations produced by the House Theatre of Chicago, including The Magnificence, a play that he wrote and is based on his relationship with his grandfather and mentor. But for many observers Watkins is most noted for his portrayal of the legendary escapologist Harry Houdini in Death and Harry Houdini, a play that recently ended a run at the House Theatre of Chicago. In that presentation, he showcases many facets of Houdini’s life, including the magician’s death-defying escape from the terrifying Water Torture Cell––an escape that, he says, he has done more than 200 times. “I’ll never forget the first time I did it because of the level of fear I had,” he says, “and no matter how many times you do it, the fear never goes away.”
Watkins' repertoire of tricks at "The Magic Parlour" includes the amazing and the breathtaking. In other performances, such as those at the House Theatre of Chicago, he escapes from the Water Torture Cell that was part of the legendary Houdini's famous act. 
Dennis Watkins regularly performs his classic, sleight-of-hand magic tricks in "The Magic Parlour" at the Palmer House Hilton. 
​   Normally––“on a good day,” he says––he can escape the Water Torture Cell in just under three minutes, but on a few occasions it has taken as long as three minutes and a half to emerge from the tank. “I’ve had some close calls, but nothing that caused us to shatter the tank,” says Watkins, a lifetime fan on Houdini. “Those close calls were due to a combination of user-error, user-psychology and fear. I’ve learned how to do it [escape], but once you add the tank of water, it becomes a mind game as much as it is a physical game.”
    No matter, Watkins, who has formidable skills, is one of the best at executing the escape, frequently leaving onlookers mesmerized. That’s part of the pleasure of being a magician, he says, having the ability to make people smile, laugh and wonder––three main reasons most people are so infatuated with magic. “Magic appeals to a part of us that we don’t turn on and unlock. As people go about their daily lives, it’s real easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day things and stop seeing all the magical things that happen right in front of us,” says Watkins, who generates many new tricks by putting his signature on old ideas and presenting them in new, fun and exciting ways. “My hope is that my show is full of surprises and magical moments for the audience, and that even the most skeptical people can leave the show with the mind-set that they don’t care how something was done anymore––just that it was fun. I want to take them past the point of trying to figure out how something was done and get them to a place where they just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Dennis Watkins’ presentation of “The Magic Parlour” is usually scheduled for every Friday night at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, 17 East Monroe Street. Sometimes performances are added on other days of the week. Tickets are $75 per guest, with wine and beer included. For the show's schedule and reservations, go to or call 773/769-3832.
––Walter Leavy