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Local 'mentalist' confounds audiences for charity

ST. PETERSBURG

Eran Raven picked her out of the second row. She had wavy blond hair, jeans, glasses. She was a trauma nurse. Her name was Tina.

He'd noticed her earlier. He'd asked his audience at the freeFall Theatre to shut their eyes and feel a dictionary in one hand, a helium balloon in the other. She'd dropped one hand into her lap; the other had swung up in the air. She was the one.

Raven, 37, also known as Eran Feigenbaum, is a mentalist who relies almost entirely on his audience for his illusions. He reads you, influences you. He lives in Tampa and is in charge of security for Google's business applications and e-mail. You have to wonder if he's been thinking a lot about Chinese hackers lately.

He called Tina up.

He had six numbered plastic foam cups on a table. He handed her a small stainless steel knife with a serrated edge, asked her to stand it sharp end up beneath one of the cups. Then he turned away.

"This is the riskiest part of my show," he told the audience.

If he didn't feel a connection with Tina, he'd do something else. There had been injuries, after all. Once he had to guess which of four vases held a necklace. He'd picked the one with the snake. The snake bit him. Another time, when he was a contestant on the TV show Phenomenon, he'd fallen during some sort of death drop stunt. He'd ruptured three disks in his back and put himself in a wheelchair.

This time, he was risking his hand. He blindfolded Tina, asked her to count off the cups in a monotone voice.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.

He smashed the first plastic foam cup with his hand and it crumpled flat to the table. If his mother had been there, she would have been gripping his father's arm so hard she'd leave marks. Not even she knows how he does it.

• • •

Sara Feigenbaum remembers all the bent spoons and forks. It got so her family had one set of silverware for him and one for everyone else. Today she has them sticking up like flowers in planters above her sink.

"So mentally I'm with him all the time," she says.

He started doing magic shows when he was 7. He'd entertain her friends in a cape. He'd pull a white rabbit out of a top hat. He broke light bulbs from across the room. Her friends would stay late.

His parents — mother a high school principal, father a rocket scientist — supported him.

"But we did not encourage him," she says. "For us, our son was going into unknown territory and we don't know anything about it and how can we encourage him?"

By the time he was in college, Raven was experimenting with levitation. He liked making motorcycles disappear. He'd perform on cruises and come back to take tests at the University of California at Irvine, where he majored in electrical engineering and computer engineering. He got an MBA at Pepperdine University.

He began working in Web security. His specialty was cryptography, converting data into code so people can't read it. In his magic, he progressed to mentalism, in which he used subliminal suggestions and other cognitive techniques so no one knew what he was really doing.

He created an act in which he appeared to read minds and predict thoughts. He went on Phenomenon in 2007 and performed ever-more dangerous demonstrations involving razor blades, scorpions and nail guns. He came in second.

He says he's not psychic and he doesn't believe in the supernatural. He believes in science.

"If someone could really predict the future, then why didn't they predict 9/11 and save thousands of lives," he says.

• ••

He says everything he does has an explanation. He's just not willing to share.

So when he makes a quarter melt and curl taco-like in a reporter's hand, there is no explanation. And later in his show, when he gets the name of a man's first crush — Meredith — just by asking him to say "Hello" to her, it makes no sense. He says he sees the lips trying to form the name. We see nothing.

And how to explain the husband and wife standing next to each other with their eyes closed. He's tickling the husband's chin but she can feel it. She's more surprised than we are to find Raven didn't touch her.

He says he doesn't use people he's planted. It's about diverting people over here — he flickers his left hand above his head — when all the action is taking place over here — his other hand flickers down at his thigh.

• • •

Bits of smashed plastic foam littered the floor around his shiny black dress shoes. The knife was under Cup 4, 5 or 6.

He asked Tina the trauma nurse to count the remaining cups. It was hard to hear anything in her voice, but it was enough for him to flatten the fourth cup.

Two cups left. He looked to the audience, pointed to a girl with a ponytail sitting next to her husband. "Pick a number: five or six," he said.

"Six."

He crushed six. He lifted Cup 5 to reveal the shiny knife. Mouths fell open. Raven lapped up the applause. He's thinking about trying that death drop stunt again.

Times staff writer Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at lapeter@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8640.

>>FAST FACTS

Eran Raven's shows continue tonight and Sunday at 8 p.m. at the freeFall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. Tickets cost $25 and all proceeds benefit three nonprofits: Feeding America Tampa Bay, Creative Clay and Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project. For more information and tickets, visit www.freefalltheatre.com or call (727) 498-5205.

Local 'mentalist' confounds audiences for charity 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 9:41pm]
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