ORLANDO — At the opening of his solo performance, “Prestigious Insanity: A Magic Show,” Spencer Hojdila sits on a stool, dressed in a white jumpsuit that looks like your stereotypical insane asylum gear, and is handcuffed. As the show starts, he raises his head, looks at the audience, and talks a bit about the nature of insanity — particularly the concept of insanity being doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting a different result.
Those words don’t seem to take on much significance early on, as the tall, hulking Hojdila, who says he’s worked as a bouncer for a nightclub, gets out of the handcuffs and then performs some magic tricks for the Orlando Fringe Festival audience. As he does, he has a long-running narrative — sometimes about himself and how he got involved in magic tricks as a lonely child, other times more philosophically about life itself.
His tricks are expertly done, and it’s obvious that the soft-spoken Hojdila is intelligent and hardly appears to be what one would think of in association with the word “insanity.”
Just the same, this was a far more unique magic show that I initially expected.
Magic acts often fall into different categories. Some magicians love to combine comedy into their acts, mixing humor, slapstick and pantomime with the tricks. Hojdila does have some moments when he has the audience laughing, but it’s mainly as he calls members of the audience onto the stage, and makes sly comments about their often nervous reactions to what he’s asking them to do.
Other magicians play it “straight” — don’t speak much, and just do the tricks. That’s not Hojdila, either.
One of the biggest surprises of this production is how, well, squeamish some of his tricks are. There were moments when he had me positively cringing — on the edge of my seat.
The reason for that is in addition to card tricks and so on, there are a few elements in the show that involve, as Hojdila notes, a sky high degree of risk. One is a trick he was inspired to perform thanks to a scene in the Batman movie “The Dark Knight,” where the Joker places razor blades in his mouth. Hojdila does as well, before pulling them out — each one now attached to a piece of string.
He’s quick to note, as he sets up the trick, that this one has backfired in the past — and he has the bloody towel to prove it, if anyone cares to see it. And believe me, you may find yourself squirming as he prepares to pull those razors out of his mouth.
The same is true for a much longer segment that ends the show, involving four Styrofoam cups. Underneath one is a sharp memo holder, that could badly impale his hand. The trick: to invite a member of the audience to come on stage, select a cup, and then Hojdila crushes it with his hand — or his head.
As you can imagine, if the audience members picks the wrong one …
Remember the show’s title, “Prestigious Insanity”? Remember Hojdila’s line about how insanity is doing the same thing over and over again …
Those words come back to haunt the audience in this segment. Now surely, you tell yourself, don’t all magicians boast about there being a real “danger” to the tricks? And don’t they all have it worked out so perfectly that nothing possibly could go wrong?
One thing that keeps you guessing, though, is Hojdila himself. In a calm, relaxed, but oddly detached tone, he describes how the trick has failed in the past, with gory results. He emphasizes this several times. And as much as you want to wave your hand and say, Oh all magicians say that, you really start to believe him — in part because he convincingly seems like someone who would take a colossal risk as part of his show. But does he, really?
The neat thing about this magician — who is wonderfully talented at his craft — is that he expertly keeps you guessing.
“Prestigious Insanity: A Magic Show” has its final performance today at 5:30 p.m. in the Purple Venue (the Patron’s Room) at the Lowndes Shakespeare Festival.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..