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Paulanne Simmons

Mentalist Maven Astounds

Max Maven: Thinking in Person
Directed by Alexander Marshall
The Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex, 312 West 36 St., 1st Floor
From June 12, 2012
Tues. & Wed. at 7pm, Thurs., Fri. & Sat. at 8pm, matinees Sat. at 2pm and Sun. at 3pm
Tickets: $65, $75, premium tickets $100 (800) 838-3006 or www.maxmavenoffbroadway.com
Closes July 1, 2012
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 19, 2012

Famed mentalist Max Maven believes the universe is far stranger than we can imagine. And in his show, "Max Maven: Thinking in Person," he sets out to prove it.

Dressed in black, with his hair plaited in a long braid falling down his back, the deep-voiced Maven appears somewhat diabolical. In fact when Maven’s assistant, the young, blonde Melanie Crispin, first walks onstage, he comments that they might be "a poster for good and evil." It soon becomes clear, however, that despite some deliciously evil and funny comments, Maven’s abilities are harmless and come from a vast intellect and not supernatural intervention.

Maven’s feats, which under the direction of Alexander Marshall move smoothly from the merely astounding to the totally mind-boggling, alternate with observations on a wide range of subjects and people: Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Erwin Schrödinger, René Magritte, Jean Piaget, Paul Erdos, Jorge Luis Borges. He asks his audience to be impressed not with his "practical skill" but rather the "aesthetic value" of his performance.

Maven begins his 2-act show with fairly traditional card tricks; diamonds and spades move about in mysterious ways. But by the end of the show, when Maven has let loose his hair and put on even more exotic attire, he has spectators scratching their heads as his activities become less fathomable.

Maven picks out the one key that will open a lock from a bunch of lookalike phonies. Completely blindfolded, he manages to "read" a volunteer’s mind and call out the serial number on a one-dollar bill. Still blindfolded, he reproduce on his own piece of cardboard the same picture another volunteer has drawn.

Maven works on a stage furnished with three panels painted with Japanese motifs (he has frequently played in Japan, speaks Japanese and makes several references to Kabuki theater) and a bookcase that contains several props. Suspended over the stage, there’s a large playing card that will figure largely in the surprise ending. But most of the atmospheric effects are engendered by Jules Fisher’s exceptional lighting which produces the perfectly diabolical satanic highlights and shadows that accompany Maven’s extraordinary accomplishments.

According to Maven, we are all born with a propensity for establishing patterns and discerning clues. Maven’s well-developed ability to understand the human mind combines with his personal magnetism to create a show that is unforgettable.

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