The Amazing Max and The Box of Interesting Things
nytheatre.com review by Matt Roberson
February 18, 2012
“I do not want realism, I want magic.”
- A Streetcar Named Desire
It seems true that good theatre, and especially great theatre, is a lot like a magic show. Whether it’s a stage trick we’ve never seen, or an actor whose transformation leaves us unable to separate them from their character, good theatre should leave us sitting like children, mouths agape, our brains working overtime to process exactly what we’ve seen. The rain scene in the Donmar Warehouse’s Mary Stuart made me feel this way, as did David Cromer’s final surprise at the end of his brilliant production of Our Town.
For his target audience—the dozens of children inside the MMAC—The Amazing Max is great theatre. How else can one explain that for over an hour, a room full of kids sat transfixed, eyes straight ahead, screaming wildly but only when called upon to do so? I’ve been to enough children’s theatre to know that this sort of reaction is not the rule. And while adults may not be as awestruck with every trick, there are certainly a few parts of the show that still have me grasping for the magician’s secret. One trick, in which Max makes a drawing pad seemingly come to life, was for me the most impressive. His craft is also on display in “The Ring Thing,” in which a volunteer’s wedding band is lost, only to reappear inside a series of containers that have remained untouched on the side of the stage. It’s fun, exciting, and induces wonder: all the elements good theatre should strive for.
As with any actor though, craft is nothing without personality, something Max has in spades. His Conan O’Brien-like persona is large and engaging, and not overly “kid-friendly.” His ego is hurt when you don’t clap loudly enough, and he’s quick to remind his under-age volunteers exactly whose name is on the marquee. Before leaving, he pleads that “if you like the show, tell your friends I’m the Amazing Max. If you didn’t, tell them I’m David Blaine.” It’s this overtly silly but authentically human, and never gumdrop, attitude that keeps the show interesting for young and old.
If there is a complaint, it’s that the space is not the best for a magic show like Max’s. His tricks are smaller and better up close. How they looked to the kids sitting twenty rows up is something I’d like to know. I would also love for the incessant background music to relate more directly to the action on stage, but that’s an adult complaint. It’s been a couple days, and I still haven’t heard my daughter question the show’s detached and uninspired sound design.
Looking around before Max started, it was clear that not all the adults were as enthusiastic to see some magic as I was. But by the end, even they had given in. I think that no matter how old and wise we become (or think we become), there’s something in everyone that wants to be surprised and bewildered. After all, it’s the unknown that keeps life interesting. This, along with a great personality that’s perfect for kids and their parents, is what The Amazing Max provides.