Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago- Magic or science?

marc2 Skeptical Chicagoans piled in to the Apollo Theater Saturday night to see a mentalist in action, and there he was, reading minds and taking notes. A mentalist of course is a sort of magician of the mind, a person who, according to Marc, uses kinesics (defined as a systematic study of the relationship between nonlinguistic body motions and communication) to suss out information from a person who is keeping mum. The stage was set to resemble the masculine office space of either a midcentury sleuth or shrink, with leathery undertones and a splash of books and armchairs. Marc himself took to the stage dressed in a suit and sporting his Philadelphia accent. It went well with his general comportment, which often hovered between sarcastic and authoritative depending on the person he was dealing with. The fun began after he assured us that he would not be revealing our past secrets, or predicting our fates, but merely reading our minds with a series of parlor tricks which he attributed to the science of interpreting non-verbal language. The tricks of course got progressively more impressive. It began with him simply getting us used to being called upon so he could predict the colors and numbers we randomly picked. Eventually his tricks had so many moving players it was difficult to keep track of names, even for Marc, although that might have been part of his shtick. He made light of the similarities between names, pointing out when two or three people in the group shared the vowel A in their name for instance. When Marc’s humor highlighted the obvious, or made fun of the conventions of magic it went over fairly well, but when he used sarcasm to admonish his volunteers for their stage fright or delay in response, the reaction in the crowd was null at best or a slight disintegration of trust. It’s odd, because I could see the tone Marc used going over well in another setting, or even another town, say New York City, or in a night club where a few cocktails had been imbibed, or at a convention with colleagues all primed to have a good laugh. But in a Chicago theater among earnest Midwesterners who hadn’t had their dinner yet the disapproval of his tone was almost a palpable. Marc made minor adjustments, pulling back the wisecracks and calling on cute kids to soften us up a little. But Marc Salem is a pro, the kind of pro who can tell if you are lying just based on what you do with your hands. He can also read you the alphabet and tell you what word you are thinking of by observing micro-dilations of your pupils, or so he would have you believe. He mentioned working with mentor, anthropologist and founder of kinesics, Ray Birdwhistell, although it remains unclear how a performer was born from a field that might lend itself more to other professions, such as law enforcement, academia, psychology, or anthropology. Perhaps that answer will have to come from a thorough reading of his book “Six Keys to Unlock and Empower Your Mind” which I unfortunately did not win on stage as several of his volunteers did. Whether or not Marc’s feats are sleight-of-hand magic, kinesics or a combination of both, the overall result was that he could tell you where you had vacationed, what number you thought of and what picture you drew and have that information magically appear inside his zippered wallet. Regardless of his methods, revisiting an old-timey mentalist routine was rare enough entertainment for a crowd on Saturday night once they got warmed up. Marc Salem’s Mind Over Chicago will be playing at Apollo Theater Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until March 27th. There is an additional show on Thursday, March 24th at 7:30 PM.  Tickets are $50.
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Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.