REVIEW: ‘At the Illusionist’s Table’

REVIEW: ‘At the Illusionist’s Table’

“We’ve all heard of dinner theater, but I thought that this was a way of pushing it further — by integrating illusion and mentalism, and by making the audience the crux of the experience.”

The above quote was said by mentalist Scott Silven in describing his show to What’s Up! for a preview story that ran Jan. 26. Before last night’s (Jan. 31) event, I admit I didn’t have much clue what I was getting into. But after my experience, I’d say this quote is an accurate thesis statement for the show.

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Potluck Arts’ first “Out of the Ordinary Experience” last night with Silven’s “At the Illusionist’s Table,” which continues through Saturday at Brightwater in Bentonville. By activating all the senses and keeping the groups intimate, Illusionist’s Table aims to take audiences beyond the traditional performance experience and create connections through the magic and mystery of the evening. The charm of the performance began before we even stepped into the dining room when Potluck Arts’ executive director Jenni Taylor Swain toasted our group, inviting us to relish in the knowledge this same group would never be gathered together again.

The show begins from the moment you enter the dining room, lit by candles, with subtly mysterious background music. Silven, seated at the head of the long table, warmly greeted each person individually — his charisma immediate and gracious. The Scottish illusionist/mentalist/storyteller/magician — any combination of those titles — wasted no time bringing the group right into the game, letting us in on some of the subtle giveaways we unconsciously display that allowed him to read us so well.

You know the act is an illusion — it’s in the name! But from the very first minutes of the show, you can make the choice to try and decode Silven’s tricks, figuring out the “how” and the “why,” or you can go along for the ride, leaning into his intent of creating “transient friendships” and rare connections with the other guests, if only for an evening.

Like other illusionists or mind-readers you may have seen on television or at another show, Silven’s act consists of reading his audience, using elements of persuasion and delightful enchantment to “read” the minds of those around the table. But it’s his setup — the elegant decor, the intimate seating, the vivid storytelling, his abundant charm, and of course the food and drink — that draw you in and make each person part of the experience. Each course of the exquisite meal — prepared by Chef Paul Allen and Chef Vince Pianalto — expounds on, enhances or embodies details of Silven’s storytelling and interactions, making the experience fully immersive.

There were a few skeptics among us last night, but even they had to admit they couldn’t figure out how Silven continued to astound us. I, myself, had an integral role in one of his exercises and despite my conscious effort to fight my instincts, making a decision I thought surely couldn’t be the answer he would predict, of course Silven knew exactly what I wrote on my paper — again delighting and shocking our group.


Potluck Arts:

‘At the Illusionist’s Table’

WHEN — 7 p.m. Today; 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Feb. 2-3

WHERE — Brightwater, A Center for the Study of Food, 801 SE 8th St., Bentonville

COST — $230 (includes a three-course meal, wine and whiskey tastings)


Categories: Theater