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Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary (Theatrical Review)

Aiden Sinclair’s “Theatrical Séance” opens a portal to another world.

Today, magic is trickery – sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors. Once upon a time, magic was…well, magical. This magical sense of wonder is what Aiden Sinclair seeks to capture in Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary, which opens tonight. Described as a “Theatrical Séance,” the performance is decidedly not a “magic show” in which the conjurer stages a fast-paced series of illusions, each ending in a flourish that invites the audience to applaud and ponder, “How did he do that?’

Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary has more in common with Play Dead and Smoke and Mirrors, one-man stage shows that incorporated magic into a personal narrative that directly connected the performer to the audience. There is a certain affinity with early incarnations of the Midnight Spook Shows, to the extent that Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary moves séance-style illusions out of the parlor and onto the stage, but Sinclair uses these effects not merely for entertainment. His goal is to open the audience’s imagination – if not their outright belief – to the possibilities of the spirit realm. The result turns out to be a surprisingly profound emotional journey.

Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary Review: The Set-Up

Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary ReviewThe Queen Mary has set up a couple of bars and a new stage, dubbed the Revenant Room, on the forward B Deck, where much of the Feast maze was set in 2018’s Queen Mary Dark Harbor. The first bar is decorated with allegedly haunted objects (none of them malignant, we are assured). Both bars serve themed drinks, such as the Smoke and Mirrors (bourbon infused with hickory smoke) and the Lady in White (named after one of the alleged ghosts aboard ship), which consists of Absinth, enhanced with a cold-water drip through a sugar cube. Prices are $14 for the specialty drinks; wine and ale are available for $11 and $8, respectively

After getting into the spirit of the occasion in the bar, the audience enters the small theatre, which sits about 50 – an opportune number, it turns out. Throughout the course of the next ninety-minutes, Sinclair will invite audience participation; by the end of the evening, just about every member will have been involved in some way. This serves double duty – not only getting viewers involved but also undermining the suspicion that the “volunteers” are plants (unless you believe that the other 49 people in the room are all in on it, which is almost as incredible as believing in ghosts).

Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary Review: The Show
Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary Review
Aiden Sinclair on stage

Sinclair begins with a few card tricks, mostly as a way of distinguishing between what audiences expect from a magic show and what he intends to deliver. After that, he focuses upon illusions suggesting supernatural phenomena: a “ghost” turns a key upheld between the fingers of two participants; a volunteer feels the touch of an unseen hand; Sinclair evokes the name and memory of one viewer’s dearly departed relative.

Concluded with little fanfare, each illusion is less an end in itself than a means to make a point; the show is essentially a dialogue between Sinclair and his audience on the nature of magic and belief in the paranormal, delivered as a soft-sell that invites but does not demand acceptance. His approach is the exact opposite of a used-car salesman; instead of aggressively coercing a customer, he is low-key and conversational, his pacing deliberate. With his occasional humorous asides, delivered completely deadpan, he comes across more like the Steven Wright of magicians, letting the one-liners and the tricks land where they may, leaving the audience to make their own determinations.

Whether the audience is convinced or not, they are slowly lulled into suspending skepticism long enough to enjoy the possibility of belief. This is, in a way, the show’s greatest illusion – the sense of returning to a time when magic was at least imagined to be possible. Sinclair opens a portal to another world; whether or not you go through is up to you, but you will at least briefly gaze through to the other side in wonder.

Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary Review: Conclusion
Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary Review
Cold-water drip for the Lady in White drink

But what happens when the portal closes at the end of the performance? The methodical pace does not exactly trigger an adrenaline rush that will carry through to the conclusion, and without the razzle-dazzle of a traditional magic show, Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary risked dwindling into an anti-climax as our willing suspension of disbelief faded with the final illusion.

Fortunately, the show avoids this pitfall by turning into a philosophical rumination on the significance of what we have experienced, illustrated with the aid of an hour-glass, which Sinclair uses to time his show. The device serves double duty as a metaphor not only for the passage of time but also for the ensuing loss of life: we are told that over 6,000 people will die as the sands run out. However, not all the grains reach the bottom. Residue remains, and this residue could represent either spirits who still wander or human memory of times gone by. Either way, the emotional impact remains; belief is not necessary in order for these shadows of the past to retain their importance to us.

This surprising insight turns out to be the show’s most impressive “trick” – which is not to be confused with an illusion. The distinction is that this last bit is not an illusion; rather it is a simple truth that magically transforms the show into something more profound than expected. Instead of simply dazzling us with prestidigitation, instead of attempting – and failing – to convince us of the afterlife – Sinclair finds a way to keep that magical portal open in our minds, even after we leave the theatre.

Illusions of the Passed Ratings
  • Ambiance & Drinks
  • Performance

Bottom Line

More than a mere magic show, Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary turns out to be surprisingly profound theatrical experience.

UPDATE: Illusions of the Passed: Legends of the Queen Mary, A Theatrical Séance has been extended on select nights through July 31, 2019. Tickets are $45 for general admission, $61 for VIP (front row seating and free poster). The Queen Mary Hotel is located at 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, CA 90802 United States. Get more information here.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.