porting a goatee and a haircut chiseled into a receded serpent’s tooth in the front, Max Maven cuts a figure that could have been carved by Edgar Allen Poe. He wears all black — some critic once commented on his “Japanese” attire, he points out, when in fact his jacket is from China, his shirt from Taiwan and his trousers from upstate New York. He scoffs at the error; in much of his solo performance — a magic and mind-reading act — Maven wields his intelligence, erudition and powers of memory over the audience with a blend of self-deprecation and haughtiness. Early in the show, to prove that he’s not going to tamper with a coin in a Styrofoam cup, a clear plastic box with a padlock appears. “I’ve been in this business 32 years, and I finally get a prop,” he remarks in a languorous voice that’s a dead ringer for that of Jim Schweda — the same rich tonality of utterances that almost crumble at the ends of sentences as though from a professor suffering the weight of too much knowledge. If the KUSC classical music host hadn’t been on the air during the time Maven said he was performing in France and Japan, I’d swear Schweda was moonlighting as a stand-up magician. “Remember Paul Erdös, the Hungarian mathematician,” Maven intones, one of many “remember” questions that invoke a range of historical figures from a Kabuki actor to a member of the Algonquin circle. The references leave the audience confounded, and leave Maven with an expression of stunned condescension: Oh, God, this part went so much better in Europe, he seems to be thinking. He tells a story of how an art critic once approached Picasso at an exhibition, complaining about the paintings’ abstractions, and how they don’t capture reality. The critic showed Picasso a photograph in his wallet: “This is my wife,” the critic said, “and this is exactly what she looks like,” to which Picasso replied, “She’s very small.” And so Maven aims to challenge our assumptions of what we think we know with the mystery of what we can’t know. It’s more than a ruse to amaze with trickery, it’s a magic act woven into slivers of metaphysics. Maven is blindfolded while an audience member sketches an image on cardboard. With the image firmly hidden, Maven replicates it. Blindfolded, he reads the serial number from a $10 bill provided by the audience. I’m a poor judge of how impressed I should be that, in 20 seconds, Maven could identify the missing card from a full deck of playing cards. I was merely amazed by how he could remember the names of all five volunteers for a demonstration. I’m dazzled by anything beyond that. Amit Itelman directs with keen attention to the crescendos of suspense, in conjunction with the uncredited lighting.
Fridays, 8 p.m. Starts: March 21. Continues through July 11, 2008

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