‘The Journey’ review: Cheesy script saps some magic from Scott Silven’s mind-reading livestream

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‘The Journey’ review: Cheesy script saps some magic from Scott Silven’s mind-reading livestream

“The desire to connect is so powerful it’s almost supernatural.” So asserts illusionist/mentalist Scott Silven near the top of “The Journey.” He’s right, as anyone familiar with quarantine can attest. But Silven’s 50-minute livestream of magic and mind-reading (“mentalism” in the parlance of its practitioners) is saturated with hokey banalities imparted as cosmic truths.

Silven’s presence is warm and engaging and he seems to read minds like a modern-day Uri Geller . Moreover, his ability to get audience members to reveal personal memories before a virtual room full of strangers is impressive. The show’s pretentiously portentous atmospherics and faux-runic wisdom is not.

Directed by Allie Winton Butler and written by Rob Drummond, “The Journey” would have more impact if the script focused more on magic and mentalism and less on new-agey mystic crystal revelations/Psych 101 ponderings on human existence.

A word about the set-up, designed by Jeff Sugg, with sound design by Gareth Fry and music by Jherek Bischoff. It’s the most technologically sophisticated stage production I’ve seen post-pandemic. (You need a smart device with a microphone, camera and internet to access the show.)

Silven’s 30-person audience is seen in squares spread across the walls of what he explains is his home in the “middle of nowhere” in Scotland. When he chooses someone to interact with, their image leaves the wall and hovers next to him, not unlike the holograms of “Star Wars.” Sometimes, the audience melts away and the walls are covered with video of crashing waves, towering stones, windswept highlands, mysterious ruins and glowing squiggles of light.

Throughout, Silven casts himself in the role of therapist as well as mentalist, subtly nudging audience members to reveal seminal moments in their lives (death and divorce both came up opening night) while gently but relentlessly insisting that we can all “connect” us via mind reading and harnessing the power of our collective destiny.

A folktale Silven says he what learned as a child is the frame for the illusions. The story of a boy who spent a lifetime wandering the Scottish highlands merges with Silven’s own life story as he recalls a childhood spent exploring the Scotch wilds surrounding his home.

Remote audience members interact directly with world-renowned illusionist Scott Silven, helping to shape each intimate, immersive performance of The Journey. This WorldStage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater event is streaming live for two weeks only, January 12–24, 2021. Photo: Journey Productions Limited.

Remote audience members interact directly with illusionist Scott Silven in each livestreamed, immersive performance of “The Journey.”
Journey Productions Limited

We’re first exposed to these walkabouts in the “pre-show content,” a pre-taped portion that shows Silven returning to the haunts of his youth, striding over hill and vale, serving Byron-meets-Fabio as he gazes solemnly at crashing waves or stone cairns.

Throughout, Drummond’s script is moody and filled with portent-soaked remonstrations about choosing your path and shaping your destiny. Silven delivers it with gravitas, but he can’t shake the schlocky breakroom feel of the dialogue.

When asking audience members to pick a photo or a rock or a square of paper from a pile, Silven continually urges them to choose “what feels right.”

Silven draws the audience out in part by gently flattering them. “Interesting,” he coos when, for example, the group votes that he should pick up small squares of paper from the back of the room before the front of the room. “A beautiful choice,” he exclaims after an audience member picks a number. Opening night, he selected two volunteers — chosen, Silven explained, because he knew they had strong imaginations and a desire to travel. That pretty much describes anyone who would buy a ticket for “The Journey.”

Still, there’s an authentic optimism to “The Journey” that’s compelling. And the illusions are indeed top-drawer. Early in the show, Silven has audience members declare specific years that were formative for them. One man talked about his divorce, another teared up remembering her grandmother. Later on, Silven makes maps materialize, the integers in the years offered earlier now materializing as GPS coordinates of locations embedded in Silven’s own story. It’s impressive.

Silven is a master of his craft here, albeit one hampered by a cheesy script. Plus, I’d be lying if I said there was anything here you can’t see Chicago’s Dennis Watkins hasn’t done with more pizazz and less pretentious filler, in his own virtual magic shows.

Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.

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