David London brings wonder to Theatre Project

Weekend of Magic

at Theatre Project Jan. 11-13

David London, a 30-year-old Rockville native, has been a magician since he first pulled a rabbit out of his hat at a cousin's bar mitzvah when he was 7 years old. London went on to hone his craft-and some pretty mystical thinking-while at film school in Chicago, before bringing his bizarre brand of magic to Baltimore 18 months ago. The numerous acts he performs in his Weekend of Magic at Theatre Project investigate the nature of magic more than they demonstrate the typical tricks of the trade.

He doesn't yank animals, long-eared or otherwise, out of top hats anymore; he doesn't travel with a vest-pocketful of finches. He quit working with the animal kingdom when he produced a dead goldfish and "had to swirl the glass so the kids wouldn't realize." He also doesn't "struggle" his way out of straightjackets. For London, these sorts of tricks "have no power." When an audience sees a magician's hat, it expects the rabbit. And when was the last time someone didn't escape from a straightjacket? "When you see people doing things that have been done before, they've lost their power," he says. "And if it doesn't have power, it probably doesn't have magic attached."

In a recent Ignite Baltimore talk called "What is Magic?" London reflected on the nature of power, magic, and wonder. "It seems that magic can always be found at the crossroads of consciousness, at the synthesis of dualities," he said. Somehow, dualities meet in five little glass vials that hold the discarded toenail clippings of Richard Nixon, Bob Barker, Sally Struthers, Donnie and Marie Osmond, and Mick Jagger. Audience members are given the oh-so-pleasant experience of grasping a bottle of discarded biomass and building a psychic rapport with it. They must allow the humble cast-offs of one of those celebrities to overcome them, and, invariably, they will mystically ascertain the identity of their randomly chosen groomer. As a trick, it's not going to shake the pillars of the Earth, but London's aim isn't the trick. He sets his sights on magic, and there, he hits his mark.

One of London's other routine performances, Adventure to the Imagi Nation Family Show-which was a regular attraction at the Chicago Children's Museum and is set to become a staple at Port Discovery-is similarly outside the norm. It's more a miraculous travel log than a typical kid's magic act. London takes his audience along on a journey to the Imagi Nation, where he becomes (and the audience meets) many of that fantastical place's more unusual inhabitants. He gives the kids newspaper hats and fashions his own hat out of a felt disk, changing it with each of his successive personae: a new hat for a new job.

One of the Adventures of Imagi Nation's more interesting characters is the nation's librarian. The library is stocked, but all of the books are blank, "because they haven't told the stories yet," says London. Together with his audiences, London fills the books of the Imagi Nation.

These blank books, plain felt disks, and little glass vials full of clipped toenails hold the key to the wonder that surrounds London's acts. He begins with the mundane and twists it ever so artfully to reveal its mystery.

Nothing is more mundane than toenails, literally. Nothing is everywhere and often goes unnoticed in its ever-present absence, and nothing is at the center of another of London's worlds. With a few unsubtle costume tweaks and a noticeable buoying of the spirit, London becomes Dr. Finius J. Nodnol III, Esq., a snake-oil salesman par excellence, who hawks a cordial made of nothing. Some would call it an empty vial, but London calls it "Dr. Nodnol's Imagination Rejuvenation Tonic." "It's an imaginary tonic," he says. "But when you drink it, you feel its very genuine effects." According to Dr. Nodnol's website, this beverage, which is completely full of empty, is also "guaranteed to free your brain to explore new territories within the far reaches of your imagination. Often imitated, never duplicated, finely fabricated, this tonic will return you to your lost childhood prerogatives and awaken the dreaming that lies within."

Dr. Nodnol is one of the star performers at London's Circus of Wonders, a performance collective established to provide mix-and-match circuses to clients looking for a customizable big top-less soiree. In addition to London's snake-oil salesman, the Circus of Wonders' cast of available characters includes belly dancers, a contortionist, a genuine flea circus, a human blockhead, and a professional lunatic, which, especially in corporate environments, is far and away preferable to the amateur variety. A modular circus is a service previously lacking in Baltimore, and it makes one wonder why. But now that London is filling that gap, he expects to spend the rest of his days on this venture. "Life's so much better with a circus in it," he says.

For more information visit magicoutsidethebox.com

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