by Dan Zeff
CHICAGO— At the beginning of his 90-minute show at the Apollo Theater, mentalist Marc Salem informed patrons that he doesn’t use any assistants or stooges in the audience or hidden cameras, and he doesn’t do any pre-show background checks on spectators he will call on during the performance. He is, Salem claims, not a magician and there are no supernatural elements in his performance. I’m not so sure. Salem must be a magician and there has got to be some occult power. There seems to be no rational explanation for his astounding act.
Salem spends much of his show identifying things that he had no previous exposure to. One example—while blindfolded, he correctly identifies all the serial numbers on a greenback, taken at random from a spectator’s wallet. He asks the audience to concentrate on a place or trip that has special relevance for them and then picks out several people by name from throughout the house, telling them where they had been and what they recalled about their experience.
Salem’s big finale is a multi-part audience participation epic, he tells the audience they are about to collaborate on the reconstruction of a fictional crime committed by a gang of little old ladies with walkers. He asks the viewers to shout out a name for the gang, the location of the crime, the month and date of the caper, what was stolen, how much it was worth, and who served as the fence. As I recall, on opening night the audience named the gang the Rats. I forget the location but the selected date was July 10, the stolen item was 100 shrimp, worth $500, and the fence was Billy the Kid. Salem then removes from his pocket a slip of paper and asks an audience member to read what’s written on it, which is the exact information culled from the crowd moments before. Are you kidding me?
And so goes the rest of the evening. Salem, wearing a blindfold, identifies an untouched item from the audience that turns out to be a watch. He identifies the object as a watch and then makes its second hand stop, without contact.
Salem states that he is an expert at non-verbal communication and to an extent that might explain some of his stunts. In one revealing bit, he calls up five audience members and asks them to each draw something on a piece of cardboard. He then correctly matches each drawing with the artist. Salem tells how he reads reach individual’s body language and facial expression when they are asked if they created a particular drawing. They were instructed to answer ”no” even if they were the artist. Salem then explains how minute changes in each individual’s expression, physical movement, and voice intonation reveals who is telling the truth and who is lying. According to Salem, there is no such thing as a successful liar, at least to an expert like him.
Salem is an unassuming performer. In his self-effacing manner, he insists at the outset that he won’t embarrass or humiliate any of his
draftees from the audience and he is generally true to his word. He did, however, get off a couple of zingers aimed at a one-time well known Chicago entertainment figure in the audience whose
continuous braying laughter set one’s teeth on edge. Unfortunately, the spectator was impervious to Salem’s understated verbal darts.
The show in truth could use a bit of a verbal edge, especially to deflate the occasional audience participants reveling too much in their 15 seconds of stage fame. Salem has been touring with his show for a long time. He attaches the host city to the formal title of the performance, as in “Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago” just now. Salem must have a ready arsenal of wisecracks that would be useful in deflating wise guys from the crowd. Some byplay might also give the production a bit more energy. But that’s a quibble. Salem’s feats of mentalism continually amaze. Say what you want about the skillful use of subliminal suggestion and manipulation. That doesn’t explain how Salem can correctly identify three consecutive words from pages of books selected randomly by spectators.
The Apollo Theater has the right amount of intimacy for the show. The set is arranged like an informal living room, with tables and chairs, and a bookshelf used as props. But basically it is Salem and his guests interacting. He gives no clue on how he pulls off his feats of wizardry, beyond commenting that he has 30 years of experience as a mentalist. Like that explains anything.
“Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago” runs through March 27 at the Apollo Theater, 2540 North Lincoln Avenue. Most performances are Saturday ta 5 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. Call 773 935 6100 or visit www.apollochicago.com.
The show gets a rating of 3½ stars. February 2016
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