The most comforting aspect, if one can be comforted by spending an evening with a man who apparently reads minds, is that this evening could have happened a century ago, and it would have been as entertaining.
Nothing that needed charging was used to create the performance in which observational skills and non-verbal communication reigned. Mentalist Marc Salem performs his show, "Mind Over Manhattan" at the Concert Hall at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. The show opened Saturday (Feb. 18) and runs through March 10.
The legitimate question is what exactly is a mentalist?
After watching him for about 100 minutes (no intermission), the only thing that was clear is that Salem is a very sharp guy and one would not want to try to dupe him. The murkier aspects are how he knew some oddly specific details about strangers.
"I don't use people I know," he says. "I am not going to tell you about your past, hopefully most of you remember that."
A psychologist who was a professor and worked with the NYPD, Salem has been at this a while. From the beginning, he explained that no one would be humiliated and no occult is used.
He invites people from the audience, then asks them to help him by drawing a simple picture, separating cards or picking a word from a book. Wearing a three-piece black suit, black shirt and black tie, Salem chats a little with the audience, when he starts. In retrospect, it's clear he's checking them out, but he tells us from the beginning that he has no stooges planted in the audience.
Yet he can tell when someone is lying, guess which card someone has picked and figure out what word someone picked while leafing through a book. It would be easy to shrug off his statements as clever guesses, but he writes them down before the subjects answer.
The most impressive number had him triple blindfolded: 50-cent coins were placed on his eyes, then medical tape, applied by physicians he found in the audience was affixed over the coins and a black blindfold tied over it all. He had the doctors pick up a few personal items from audience members and he had other people pass out slips of paper where people wrote their names and a place that had significance.
I tried to remain skeptical, but the person I brought with me, who was not on any invitation list, happened to have a card passed to her. She wrote her name and listed a memorable trip to Iceland. He called that out from the stage, while triple blindfolded.
Sure there are magicians who work the Bar Mitzvah circuit, and admittedly I had seen the puzzle trick he did at one; in this case the Mona Lisa was turned into a puzzle missing a piece. A guy from the audience, who answered the call that he was creative and intellectual, (and may suffer from a superiority complex) eventually pulled the missing piece from a bag.
Other bits, though, were astounding. One of the doctors collected dog tags from someone. Salem not only guessed what they were -- not by touching them -- but hovering his hand above a foot over them, and he guessed the identification number on them.
Is there a magician's trick to it? There would have to be, but I don't want to know what it is. In a world where we are always two clicks from information, some of it actually accurate, it is comforting to be part of an audience not quite sure how he knew the woman behind me had almost passed out on Thursday.
Photo/Video credit: Carole Rosegg