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THEATER REVIEW Mind Reader
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-05-23

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Playwright: Written and performed by Mark Toland

At: Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $25; 773-404-7336; GreenhouseTheater.org . Runs through: July 25

Mentalism—more commonly called "mind-reading"—may be the most invasive of the bamboozle-based arts. Sleight-of-hand locates its unknown factors securely within the objects undergoing manipulation ( a person who disappears from inside a box, for example, is understood to accomplish this feat exclusively in that particular box ). Clairvoyant sightings occupy a milieu safely distanced by time, past or future. The prospect of the last boundary protecting your individual privacy dissolving into a portal facilitating disclosure of its secrets, though—now that's disturbing.

Our first glimpse of Mark Toland dispels all preconceived images of extrasensory-empowered oracles, however. Not only does our Kansas-born soothsayer pair brown shoes with a blue suit, but he wears glasses—an accessory invoking 1920s-vintage gags involving myopic fortune tellers. Furthermore, only minutes into the show, he reveals to us precisely how the illusion of psychic superpowers is implemented, recounting the story of his own encounter at the airport with a stranger demonstrating a remarkable familiarity with his most intimate personal data—having previously overheard him phoning his wife before reciting his vitals to the car-rental agent.

Having thus disarmed us with his transparency, Toland then proceeds to retrieve dispatches from our consciousness of a provenance so remote as to banish any explanation of its origins lying in simple eavesdropping—the name of your childhood crush, for example, or the astrological sign you haven't tried to remember since surrendering it to your dance partner at Broadway Sam's circa 1974.

To be sure, spectators in attendance on opening night encompassed a few volunteers already well-versed in their duties, eagerly offering information more than sufficient for its intended purpose, but their enthusiasm only served to reinforce the nervous-nerd persona adopted by Toland as he struggles with duct-tape blindfolds adhering to facial hair, marking pens wafting aromatic fumes and overly shy assistants vocalizing in whispers. ( "Speak up—I'm not really a mind-reader." )

Stage-magic repertoire being finite and a measure of overlap inevitable, our winsome host cannot be faulted for a few of us having seen some of his maneuvers performed elsewhere. In an age when no one is wholly certain of wayward coins and cards ceasing to misbehave after being returned to our custody, the reassurance offered by this weeknight neighborhood entertainment is enough to ensure its welcome.


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