Ultimately, if Senehi's audiences are shrewd and psychologically inclined, they all return to the same question: How do you want us to think you did this stuff? Senehi's peers are bitterly divided over the answer. It comes down to a question of ethics: Are you an honest liar? Or a dishonest one? At one end of the spectrum, there is Uri Geller, the famous seventies mentalist who grandiosely claimed (and still does) that it was his own supernatural gifts that enabled him to bend spoons; at the other, there is James Randi, an accomplished magician who made a name for himself by exposing the hokum of Geller and his ilk. (In 1996, he even offered $1 million to anyone who could demonstrate evidence of the paranormal in a setting he controlled. The prize is still unclaimed.
Senehi has an abiding interest in this debate. "I've always been interested in what's real and what isn't," he says. "I take this question very seriously." What he decided on, in his act, was to split the difference between Uri Geller and James Randi, challenging both the credulity of believers and the unsmiling vehemence of skeptics. "It's like being a storyteller, right?" he says. "When the storyteller is really good, the line between reality and unreality blurs-you're not really sure which is which." Gerard Senehi, Mentalist There are some lines Senehi refuses to cross. He won't give private readings. If someone comes to him with a personal question, especially a medical one, he tells them very candidly that he has no way to know the answer. Often, if audience members look too spooked, he blurts out: "Hey-it's just a trick."
"With the material I use, I feel clean about the stance I take" says Senehi. "The context is clear: I'm entertaining." But for some performers, vagueness of any kind is coy, arrogant, a crime of almost a moral nature. "Monday Night Magic" won't even allow performers onstage unless they include disclaimers specifically saying they're doing tricks, not extra-sensory experiments. The very term mentalist makes Michael Chaut, the show's founding producer, break out in hives. "The only difference between a mentalist and a magician," he sniffs, "is that mentalists charge 50 percent more."
And Chant's attitude is positively benign compared with that of his partner, the sleight-of-hand artist Jamy Ian Swiss. "If you tell the audience you're doing anything other than tricks," he grouses, "you're not doing entertainment. You're doing religion."
Do you have a spare key? Senehi asks Terry. She fishes around in her pocketbook. "Hold it in your hands like that..."
She sandwiches it.
"Feel anything? Rub it gently."
We wait. "It's very... warm," she says, looking vaguely alarmed. "Oh, my God!" She opens her hands and stares at the crumpled product. "You... are... real!"
"Don't take it too seriously."
"I'm giving up science."
"This is science, actually."
"You are bringing to life things I believed as a 12-year-old!"
Dimple looks unimpressed. Senehi notices. He grabs a spoon, balances it on my wineglass, and makes it rattle with wild abandon from about four feet away.
"Magnets," says Dim.
"Okay then," says Senehi, still well out of reach of the spoon. "Watch." We stare. The spoon suddenly arches its back.
Now Dim looks flustered. "Is that your spoon?" he asks Brian, our host.
"Is it Sabatier?"
Dim picks it up and reads the engraving on the back. "Yes." He tries bending it back. It won't budge.