With a small cast and very little funding, the original water torture chamber scene was mimed with a two-dimensional frame made of wood that was placed in front of Watkins before he acted out the escape. Not until 2003 did he and Allen decide to revisit the play with more resources and add an actual water chamber rented from Canada. Watkins took a year off to prepare himself physically for the escape. "I dropped a bunch of weight and quit smoking, and I started working on my core for the very first time in my life," he says. Watkins learned very quickly that conquering the chamber was more of a mind game.

For the House Theatre's tenth-anniversary performance, Watkins and company rented a custom-made chamber from an Atlanta magician who is roughly his size. However, when the chamber arrived in Chicago, Watkins was met with a stunning surprise. "My first reaction was, 'Holy shit — it's so small!'" He realized the Canadian cell had been built for magicians of differing heights and builds. This new one from Atlanta had very little room for maneuvering and featured more complex mechanisms. Watkins had to hold his breath longer and alter his means of escape. It is the same cell he'll use at the Arsht performances. "I'm just 5'10" and I can barely fit in it standing up!" he exclaims.

Watkins is excited to bring Death and Harry Houdini to Miami. It's the first time the show has played outside of Chicago. "This production carries with it a great opportunity to see and experience a story in a different way for people," Watkins says. "I hope people are as excited here as they were in Chicago to sit two feet from the water torture cell and watch someone be locked inside of it. It's a crazy, exciting theater experience for all involved." And then, with biting, caustic humor that laughs in the face of death's summoning, he adds, "Of course, I'm inside of the box, so..."

Dennis Watkins hangs while Death looks on in Death and Harry Houdini.
Michael Brosilow
Dennis Watkins hangs while Death looks on in Death and Harry Houdini.

Location Info


Carnival Studio Theater

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Downtown/Overtown


Death and Harry Houdini: Written and directed by Nathan Allen. April 26 through May 20 at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $45.

The apparatus suddenly releases and you are plunged into the water headfirst. You have maybe two minutes before your lungs seize up and your brain becomes devoid of oxygen. Someone stands by with an ax, ready to shatter the glass casing in the event things go awry. But death is there. Watching you. Biding his time. Knowing that as soon as you panic, you will belong to him for all eternity.

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