Luminato: Mental Magic with Max Maven
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Luminato: Mental Magic with Max Maven

From June 11–20, Torontoist explored the best and most promising of Luminato’s many offerings.

Max Maven the mentalist. Photo by Wittus Witt.

On Friday evening we entered the Panasonic Theatre for the third part of Luminato’s “Masters of Magic” series with one question on our minds: who is spending two-and-a-half hours of their Friday night seeing a mentalist? As it turns out: everyone. The house’s two levels were packed with boomers and yuppies in pairs, families in nuclear bunches, and even a cohort of teenage wannabe-magicians from a local magic camp. The only common denominator guiding the turnout for Max Maven’s particular breed of entertainment, it seems, was that no one (save Torontoist, that is) was there alone. You don’t want to go solo to the mentalist show.

While mentalists fall under the same umbrella as magicians, their feats of the seemingly impossible rely less on the sleight-of-hand and more on the sleight-of-mind. Pulling participants from the audience, Maven performs tricks with cards and locks and ladies’ handbags that do not rely on conjuring, transforming, or making anything vanish, but rather on the illusion that Maven knows something about what is in the minds of his subjects that he should not reasonably be able to know.
And it’s truly pretty impressive stuff. Trying to narrate a magic trick after the fact feels more or less like trying to explain the chronology of a dream, but suffice it to say that the show flirted with the line between what we know to be true and what we are capable of believing in.
But surely mostly grown-up Torontonians are not out in such numbers on a Friday night in order to cultivate a belief in the paranormal. As the show went on, we started wondering in earnest why, exactly, people go to magic shows. At intermission, every couple and family and cohort’s conversation concerned how each trick had been accomplished (this is why you don’t want to go to the mentalist show alone). The possibility of any one theory being true or not didn’t seem to diminish anyone’s enjoyment. We started to feel as though people go to magic shows because they want to try to unknot them, to debunk their mysteries, to rationalize their illusions, and, just as much, because they want to fail at doing so.
The thing about mentalism is that it’s far more impressive if we don’t buy what’s being sold. Frankly, extrasensory perception seems like the easy way out when the truth is so much stranger and more appealing. Maven’s performance stays firmly within the realm of the senses. He really is reading people’s minds, and he’s doing it by using powers of perception and suggestion that we all possess. It’s very cool, and also very disturbing. It makes it obvious just how predictable, readable, and manipulable we all are.
Maven’s illusions were interspersed with abstract, theoretical monologues delivered in overly enunciated speech, a real effort to cultivate anachronism—the feeling that Max Maven himself was drawn out of an older, stranger, and somehow more mysterious time. There was something sort of depressing about the effort, though. It gave us the feeling that, despite the impressive Friday night turnout, Maven’s is a dying art. At the end of the performance, Maven reminded us of the importance of supporting what he called “strange theatre.” “If you don’t,” he warned, “you’ll just keep seeing the same things you’re already seeing.”
On the way out of the theatre, we overheard one young woman say to her date: “That was alright, but compared to David Copperfield there was too much talking.”