Jake Nevola ’14 began a trick by showing audience volunteers three cards, two red and one black, which he shuffled as he explained the three-card monte con game’s history. To ensure the volunteers understood the game, he showed them the cards again, only this time, all of them were black. When he flipped the cards over a third time, two were black and one was red. As the game progressed, it became obvious that nothing is as fair as one thinks.
“The easiest person to fool is the person who thinks he cannot be fooled,” he said Friday after the first of two performances of his original show, “Expert at the Card Table.”
His hands in plain sight and under the intense scrutiny of four volunteer audience members, Nevola effortlessly performed his deceptions. Viewers remained unable to see what was actually going on, even when Nevola explained what he was doing and put his deck in a volunteer’s hand, manipulating it by proxy.
The ease with which he performs comes with seven years of practice.
“You need to drill it,” he said. “It has to be second nature.”
Nevola first performed sleight-of-hand as a child, after his aunt gave him a book of magic tricks.
“It was one of the worst magic shows you’ve ever seen,” Nevola said.
Nevola has come a long way since then. Since discovering his passion, he has been practicing 40 to 50 hours per week. The idea for the show, which included interpretations of tricks and original deceptions by Nevola, came to him at the start of his junior year.
“Expert at the Card Table” is part of the theater department’s “Your Space” program, which provides student performers with spaces and resources. Nevola submitted his proposal online at the beginning of spring term and found out on March 27 that he had received the space for April 4 and 5. Over the next week he worked out his show, practicing in the space two days prior to the first performance.
Camille Van Putten ’14, who attended the show on Friday, laughed when asked if she figured out any of the tricks.
“You don’t really know,” Van Putten said. “Was that part of the plan the whole time?”
According to Nevola, it was. He said he designed the show to amuse, to make the audience realize just how invisible deception can be. After watching him deal himself winning hand after winning hand in mock games of poker, one is inclined to agree.
“I didn’t want to be tricked, but I hoped that I would be because I wanted him to be successful,” Emma Steele ’14, who attended the Saturday show, said with a smile.
Nevola says he understands his audience, expecting to be questioned and doubted, but aims to distract rather than deceive. He surprises viewers who are prepared for a lie by telling the truth, directing their attention to one area and setting up the deception in another. As an audience member, you may think you’re being lied to and fooled, and you would be half right.
“It’s not misdirection,” he said. “It’s direction.”
While viewers scrutinize one hand, Nevola’s other performs impossibilities. “Expert at the Card Table,” Nevola said, has a clear message.
“Do be careful who you play cards with,” Nevola said.
Nevola performed in the Bentley Theater on Friday and Saturday.