Houdini is an exploration of freedom and imprisonment. This cross genre musical unlocks time and reality—on the page, in a box, under water, onstage
This previously unpublished work offers readers the musical that was performed once in 1973 in Lenox, MA, with Christopher Walken playing Houdini in one of his earliest roles onstage. Houdini presents the spectacular life of world-renowned escape artist, Harry Houdini. Part biography, part fantasy, Houdini unlocks Rukeyser's worlds of illusion and reality as she leads us from Houdini's childhood in Appleton, Wisconsin (picking up pins with his eyelids) to his acts under water and onstage. We meet his wife Bess, his mother, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the poet's own Marco Bone, vehicle of voices, spirits, and songs. Rukeyser presents Houdini's shocking congressional testimony against spiritual mediums. She shows his great feats of escape, his complex relationships with his mother and his wife, and his ironic, untimely death.In addition to revealing the story of this country's tantalizing icon, Houdini offers a new understanding of Rukeyser's own work and life. Written at the height of the women's movement, the musical gives us Rukeyser's most famous lines, spoken by Houdini's wife Bess: "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open." Houdini's response, "It has. Now I am going after all the pieces." With subtexts of desire, race, grief, and love, Houdini presents Rukeyser's gorgeous, reaching language and her brilliant observations of the human psyche. The musical will appeal to young readers as well as Houdini devotees, poetry fans, theater people, and escape artists everywhere.
"Muriel Rukeyser's Houdini is the most exhilarating, disturbing and triumphant theatre script I've read since Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Ahead of time and timeless, like most Rukeyser writings, it lifts straight off the page into the imagination."~Adrienne Rich
"A fabulous addition to Houdini literature. Everyone interested in Houdini needs this book!"~Sidney H. Radner
""A deft exploration of how the physical and emotional risks that people engage over the course of there are essentially spiritual. As a musical, Houdini explores the ideas of love, physicality, and sexuality that infuse Rukeyser's oeuvre by using a novel's freedom of scope and plot while maintaining poetic devotion to music and language.""~Rain Taxi
""The dramatic structure of Rukeyser's play is collage-like, with events of childhood, meetings and separations, voyages abroad, song and dance, and astonishing feats of escape.Who would have ever thought that in the time of the legendary past of carnivals and magic acts, in the beginning of the twentieth century, a rabbi's son, endowed with strength and beauty held the key to unlocking the mysteries and the truths behind the daily headlines?""~American Book Review
""Muriel Rukeyser's Houdini is the most exhilarating, disturbing and triumphant theatre script I've read since Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Ahead of time and timeless, like most Rukeyser writings, it lifts straight off the page into the imagination.""~Adrienne Rich
""One strange and beautiful verse drama, this is a metaphorically lush and wryly incisive interpretation of the psyche and art of Harry Houdini. Houdini inspires Rukeyser to ponder our love/hate relationship with our body, our desire for magic and acceptance of illusion, the link between exhibitionism and exorcism, and the eroticism of bondage and the myth of escapism. And then there's his wife Bess, emblematic, for Rukeyser, of longing and stoicism, who utters one of the poet's most resounding lines, 'What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.""~Booklist