As we entered the upstairs theater at the Greenhouse Theater Center, a young man with a trim beard and large glasses that accentuated his deep-set eyes, greeted us. When my companion asked him if he was Mark, he said yes. "You know my name already, right?" she joked. "No," he answered, "I haven't turned it on yet."
Our greeter, of course, was Mark Toland and the "it" he was talking about was mentalism—the illusion of reading minds. Over the next 75 minutes, Toland correctly recited audience members' memories, repeated words they hadn't uttered, and identified objects brought to the stage while he was blindfolded. He moved the show along with self-deprecating patter that put everyone at ease and had us eating out of his hand. He repeatedly stressed that he wasn't actually clairvoyant yet left everyone baffled nonetheless.
To ease a mark's mind is a mentalist's biggest magic trick. No one wants to be made a fool of, so a mind reader must make the con a pleasure to his prey. We knew that Toland was making us play his game, but we played it anyway and were happy to do so.
For the grand finale, Toland made three people add up a bunch of numbers on an iPhone that wound up totalling that day's date plus the exact time at which the show ended. I have no idea how he did that or any of the tricks that preceded it, but I'd happily let him bamboozle me again anytime. v