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Review: With ‘Pure Lies,’ young magician Trent James shows he’s ready for the action at Chicago Magic Lounge

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 1/9/2020 By Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

In the space of barely an hour, Trent James does card tricks, quick-changes, ventriloquy and shadow puppetry. He holds a seance. He reads a couple of minds. He makes a flute disappear.

He does all of this at the age of 22.

It was whispered in my ear at the Chicago Magic Lounge — where whispering in ears is a feature of many an evening — that James only recently moved out from his parents’ home in west suburban Brookfield and got his own apartment in Oak Park. That likely explained the especially enthusiastic table to my left, where James’ proud parents were hanging out, hooting and hollering and watching their prodigiously smooth kid.

They hardly were alone. Chicago Magic Lounge has been one of the great recent success stories in live entertainment in Chicago. Even on a Wednesday night in boring early January, with no famous name on the bill, the joint was packed. Over the holidays, I was told, with hard evidence proffered, it was tough even to get through the door.

I’ve been making a habit of heading up there on Wednesdays. On that night, the Magic Lounge has residencies, meaning that certain magicians sit down, in theatrical parlance, and the artist and the show stay the same for two or three months, meaning I can tell readers what to expect. On the weekends, by contrast, the acts mostly are fleeting one-offs, and you never can fully trust magicians.

Plus magic geeks avoid weekends in the same way that steady drinkers and serious dancers avoid New Year’s Eve. Wednesday is a kind of industry night, although the Magic Lounge, which has a room small enough for intimate magic, attracts a motley crew of characters — so much so, in fact, that the audience interaction there is far more entertaining than is usual.

At one point Wednesday, James was trying to find a volunteer who had been to a seance. “Any experience?," he asked one guy, who was flapping his arms. “No,” the mark said. “But I just really want want to be on the stage.” He came up and got his pocket picked for his trouble.

James has taken over the slot of Lucy Darling, the vampy alter-ego of the magician Carisa Hendrix, who will be back in the fall, I’m told. James has a way to go to match Lucy D’s level of smooth trickery and sandpaper-dry comedy but the story around the Magic Lounge is that Hendrix burst into his dressing room and demanded more information about his identity, being as Lucy Darling knows talent when Lucy Darling sees it and Lucy Darling does not like competition.

I’d concur, except for the moments when James tries to fake his way into standing ovations, which I find immoral. Notwithstanding such folly of youth, this is a very impressive hour from a smart and gifted Chicago magician, nicely straggling old schools and new. “Pure Lies,” as James calls his act (a nod to his youth?), is impressive for its panache but mostly for its packed contents. James quickly has figure out how to do a whole lot of things that people spend lifetimes mastering. This gig is a big step up for him; check him out, on a Wednesday.

Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.

Review: Trent James “Pure Lies” (3 stars)

When: Wednesdays through March 25

Where: Chicago Magic Lounge, 5050 N. Clark St.

Running time: 1 hour

Tickets: $35-$45 at 312-366-4500 or


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