Review: Max Maven – Thinking in Person

Max Maven: Thinking in Person
June 14, 2012 @ The Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, New York City, NY
Written and performed by Max Maven; Directed by Alexander Marshall; featuring Melanie Crispin; Scenic design by Alan E. Muraoka; Lighting Design Jules Fisher

Max MavenMax Maven appears off-broadway! What a treat. And he brings with him a royal cast of supporting characters. Alexander Marshall, author of the recent Beating a Dead Horse: The Life and Times of Jay Marshall, son of Jay Marshall and grandson of Al Baker. The lighting director is Jules Fisher who notably performed miracles of his own in lighting the Robert-Houdin Blooming Rosebush for Ricky Jay’s On the Stem (among other accomplishments) and speaker at the Tenth Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. Michael Chaut of New York’s Weekly Monday Night Magic is Associate Producer.

    • Marshall, Alexander “Sandy”. Beating a Dead Horse: The Life and Times of Jay Marshall. New York: Junto Publishing. 2010. 526 pp. Standard edition. Cover | Full Title
    • Steinmeyer, Jim. The Tenth Los Angeles Conference on Magic History. The Los Angeles Conference on Magic History: np. 2007. 99 pp. Cover

In the 1990’s Max authored an editorial in his then-monthly Magic Magazine column “Parallax” in which he voiced the (perfectly sensible) opinion that amateur magicians and professional magicians had fundamental differences which should be openly acknowledged when dealing with each other. This prompted at least one attendee of a subsequent magic convention to jokingly begin wear a badge which read “Max Maven speaks to ME”. So I suspect I am not alone in having a story about Max which begins with the following line:

15 years ago Max Maven yelled at me.

“That is precisely NOT what I did!” he exclaimed at me in a room full of magicians to which he was lecturing. I had sincerely asked what I intended to be a clarifying question around a point which I did not understand: A subtlety left unexplained without which, to me, pointed directly back to the underlying method. I’m certain I did not word my question in the gentlest light, and Max likely took me for a cocky young man (which I was) trying to point out flaws in his routine construction (which I was not). Being likely the only native English speaker in the room at a foreign lecture (delivered in English) likely did not help his perception of me. But though my intentions were good, the response was off-putting. As it sits, I still don’t understand how an intelligent observer overlooks what I now see as a flaw in the handling he presented for our use. But I will accept that the fault rested entirely with my manner and timing of questioning. You don’t easily forget something like that, though, do you?

These were the thoughts filling my head, as I thought about the ensuing 15 years between that experience and the coming evening’s performance. How many thousands of tricks and articles must he have published over that period? How many had I?

I spotted from my seat a handful of “magic celebrities” taking their seats: Dick Cavett, David Blaine, Bill Kalush, and Jeff Hobson. The theater was about half-filled with around 100 people watching.

Max began with a card prediction effect, in which an audience member grabs a packet of cards, which Max then divines all the cards in the chosen packet. Max and the audience member are back-to-back, after each correct divination the card is handed over the spectator’s shoulder to Max, who shows the card to be correct. A nicely framed scene, which effectively draws focus to both the spectator and magician’s faces during the procedure. As always, his divinations are well acted and believable. Here Max displays his many audience management techniques, one example of which he taught in his recent lecture on audience management at EMC. He ends with one card left undivined…a prediction of which is left hanging on the stage. Max abruptly leaves the stage for intermission, leaving the spectator awkwardly on stage to confirm the prediction for herself (and for the audience). The unscripted interplay between the audience and spectator is intriguing – a sort of post-modern end to the first half. (The experience felt very much akin to Penn leaving the stage with Teller drowned in the water torture cell.)

3 more effects in the second half. Max’s 7 Keys of Baldpate routine with a suspended Masterlock which we’ve seen on Art of Magic special years prior. To me, the moment in which 1 of many spectators “feels” instinctively that he has the special key is one of the most unique moments in magic. Next, a bandaged-and-blindfolded pseudo- psychometry routine, in which Max divined objects and serial numbers of items and bills which audience members produced from their handbags. The effect ended with a design duplication of an audience drawing made while blindfolded. His handling here of the blindfolding was superb. I don’t believe his hands ever approached the face, and there appeared to be no adjustments, squinting, or other manipulation of the end state of the volunteers’ bandaging. I contrast this with a performance I’d seen by Marc Salem a few month’s prior which felt infinitely less clean, less pure, with Marc’s hands repeatedly adjusting or otherwise manipulating his bandages during the blindfolding process.

The performance concluded with another post-modern twist: a prediction left unfulfilled, never to be revealed or confirmed.

This focus on the tricks, however, doesn’t do the performance justice. These were Max’s well-honed, signature items – the focus here clearly rests in Max’s original script.

It was all Max: lots of Asian influences, erudite references, and inside jokes. If you didn’t know he could speak Japanese, he makes sure you know. If you weren’t clear that he is the smartest guy in the room, he reminds you.  It was his old MAGIC Magazine “parallax” column writ large on on stage. Dozens of the references I didn’t get – one couldn’t possibly get them all – and at times it felt wearisome and like patter. But it was definitely Max through and through – which is an achievement. It was, indeed, something that “you don’t know you want.  Something you might know you want the next time, but you never knew you wanted before.”

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