Pure Lies gives us magic with a touch of malarkey | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Pure Lies gives us magic with a touch of malarkey

Trent James lights up Wednesdays at the Chicago Magic Lounge.

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UPDATE Monday, March 16: this event has been canceled. Refunds available at point of purchase.


The intersection of comedy and magic has ballooned since the art form's vaudevillian heyday. Case in point: Trent James, a 22-year-old second-generation magician who approaches the art of illusion with a whole lot of self-deprecating humor and a winking acknowledgment that magic is often little more than "elaborate misdirection." At one point in his irreverently titled 60-minute show, Pure Lies, James attempts to contact dead twin boys who (he explains) perished in long-ago Louisiana. The patter involves a bit of hocus-pocus involving two small chalkboards. The ghostly writing that appears on the slates is impressive, but the punch line is an admission that it's all malarkey.

James's sleight-of-hand also includes chameleonic handkerchiefs, vanishing flutes, and telepathy. It might be all pure lies, aka "bullshit" (his word, charmingly deployed for maximum laughs), but it's impressive nonetheless. James is the anti-David Copperfield: instead of bombast and disappearing elephants, he works with things like brussel sprouts, electrical tape, and regurgitated pasta. ("And that's why I'm banned from Olive Garden!")

The bits aren't built for spectacle but for amusement. In lieu of assistants in embarrassing outfits (if you want to see a lady sawed in half you're in the wrong place), there are lyrical bits with James summoning shadows where the properties of light dictate there should be none. There is also a mute ventriloquist's dummy named William, who is adorable and something of a pet portraitist. James delivers it all with an enigmatic, charismatic smile, one moment exposing the mundane gimcracks of the trade and the next accomplishing something that seems truly magical.  v

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