By Teresa Leggard
As people filed into the black box below Westport Coffee House, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, Kansas City really likes magic!” But that’s a misnomer. What Mark Toland does isn’t magic in the traditional sense—no hats or capes, no wands or rabbits. In truth, he is more of a room reader than a mind reader, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
The performance felt like the live taping of a talk show. Toland has the style and charisma of a late-night host doing a monologue. He warms up with small readings—“I want you to think of a number…”, that sort of thing—and between practice premonitions he keeps the crowd’s interest with jokes, clever quips, and topical asides. Even as each reading increased in difficulty, Toland’s delivery did not waver. He remained loose and funny and even a little vulnerable.
Audience participation really is essential to this show. At times the crowd seems as “in on it” as Toland himself. So show up ready to participate, or find a seat in the back and enjoy the view. This introvert even participated and lived to tell the tale.
Perhaps the most magical thing about Toland was his transparency. He never called himself a psychic, just a people-watcher. He tempered our expectations that his readings might be “close,” even though they were always spot-on. And while everyone was busy laughing and whispering to each other, “How’d he do that?” Toland snuck in a few poignant and hopeful ideas about life. Talk about the art of misdirection.