Review: Magician Max Major at TOTS

Max Major

Washington, D.C.-based mentalist magician Max Major says, “I don’t actually read minds, I read people.”

I'm pretty good at reading people too, but during Max’s touring show at Theatre on the Square Thursday night, he read the diverse adult audience — as a whole, in small groups, plus several individuals — with an accuracy that astonished me. From cards to limes to relationships, he knew what was hidden and where to (respectfully) find it. He knew how to put his life at risk and then save it, all for our entertainment.

It was fun to be read by him too. Yes, yes, he has a great body, great smile, great clothes, and great hair. But what truly makes him sexy is the calm, deep, non-judgmental way he pays attention to you.

That and his smart sense of humor. Sometimes he lies, but he is so matter-of-fact about his dishonesty that you can’t help laughing.

In addition to his mind reading feats Thursday night, Max also skillfully performed a sampling of other kinds of magic, including sleight-of-hand and what I call “gross out” magic. For example, he politely pulled a woman on stage to help him pull a piece of thread through his mouth and out his eye. I am shuddering again, remembering that.

I was also impressed by the smooth way he encouraged audience participation through social media. At the box office we each received a paper wristband with Max’s Twitter/Instagram handle and the show’s hashtag on it. There was also a large screen at the back of the stage before the show started, reading “Throw up a spade!” and showing people taking selfies with their hands in a position to echo Max’s logo. When he called people up on stage to help him, he encouraged their friends to take and share pictures, too. There was even a contest during intermission to see who could make him laugh the most by what they posted, with logo merchandise for the winners. When he’s not tweeting about his magic shows, he’s tweeting motivational advice, which gives people a reason to continue following him.

Yet if you didn’t have a smartphone in your pocket during the show, you didn’t feel left out. The social media aspect was well-integrated but the magic remained the focus, and there were other forms of community building that happened right there, in the moment. For example, Max asked everyone to take out a coin and hide it in one of their fists. Many people weren’t carrying any change, so Max asked people that did have coins to share with their neighbors. This simple act engaged the audience in a time-honored way that felt fresh.

I also loved that even though there was no cursing or anything x-rated about the show, it was clearly for adults only.

At the end, Max pointed out Chad Rabinovitz in the audience and thanked him for directing the show two years ago. I recognized the name and grabbed Chad in the lobby to ask him about that experience.

Chad told me he and Max grew up together in Maryland, doing magic. Then Chad went into theatre, eventually becoming the producing artistic director of the Bloomington Playwrights Project here in Indiana. When Max wanted to create a new magic show, he asked Chad to direct it.

Chad said it is unusual for a magician to involve a director or to think about acting skills in addition to magic skills and general stage presence. Chad said he gave Max suggestions about how to order the show’s elements to make an effective arc and make the scripted parts appear more natural. Over the two years and several hundred performances since, the show has become even smoother and tighter.

“But Max also has natural charisma, of course,” Chad said. “He’s the headliner for my gala tomorrow at the Bloomington Playwrights Project.”

Some of the things that Max did Thursday night still seem impossible to me, no matter how good he is at reading people. And since Max himself says he is meticulous, a part of me wonders if even his genuineness is an act. But when I check my intuition, it says Max is for real. In any case, his show was a lot of fun.