If ever there were an antidote to the ranks of twirling snowflakes in “The Nutcracker” or the kick-line of the Rockettes as choices for holiday entertainment, surely Avner the Eccentric provides it. A reminder of the theatrical power that can reside in a single charismatic performer who touches the heart, Avner held the audience entranced Sunday at Lyric Stage where he has set up shop until Dec. 23. Wearing no costume pieces other than baggy pants and shirt, red suspenders and a bowler hat, and having no stage props to rely on except a mischievous push broom, a roll of toilet paper, and a few matchsticks, he made the mistake of often trying to lean on these and constantly fell over - to the guffaws of the many children of all ages who were watching.
A first cousin to Charlie Chaplin, this contemporary Everyman who is fighting to get through life, one day at a time, manages to relate a series of stories about his survival strategy, without uttering a word. Avner Eisenberg, a mime who trained with the 20th century French master Jacques Lecoq and California teacher Carlo Mazzone Clementi is a modern descendant of the actors, singers and clowns who traveled the 19th and early 20th century vaudeville circuits. Like them, he takes his act on the road to stages all over the United States and abroad.
A consummate clown, Avner employs sleight of hand and an amazing physicality, wrapped in the deceptive form of a schlemiel, the Yiddish word for the unfortunate creature who must live by his wits, since he seems on the surface to be so ill-suited to ordinary tasks.
Now he has landed in Boston to brighten our holiday season. From his first entrance at the Lyric Stage, accompanied by the mournful notes of the klezmer music that grew out of the Jewish experience over multiple centuries in the European ghettos, Avner spins his tales of woe that somehow find him triumphant at the end of each vignette. He’s endearing in his joy at each success, sharing his emotions with the viewers. Among his schtick are juggling, tearing of paper into amazing constructions, and a sense of comedic timing coupled with a sensitivity to the audience that ranks among the best of show business practice
The title of his this show, “Exceptions to Gravity,” no doubt refers to his magic tricks, for surely it is magic to wrinkle a piece of newsprint a bit and then balance it by one corner on the edge of your nose. He also has a way with other objects that take on menacing characteristics, for example, the toppling stack of paper cups which he carries or chases around the stage. However, rather than the tasks he sets for himself being exceptions to gravity, they seem to make gravity an enemy that refuses to be tamed. The cigarette he tries to light disappears and reappears, while the matches to light it have a way of falling from his hands and pockets. Even his hat prefers to tumble to the ground instead of staying put on top of his head.
Avner likes to bring the viewers into the act, both visually and as performers themselves, to provide some sound effects. He employs lighting as a painter uses his tubes and brushes, waving the lights up to allow him to see who’s out there watching and how they are responding to his catalogues of tricks. Best of all is the manner in which he makes the audience into one large orchestra, which he conducts to our great glee at his approval.
Lyric has bypassed the conventional in seasonal presentations to bring us this reminder that all theater really needs is “two boards and a passion,” as an observer once stated. Avner the Eccentric is filled with humor, passion, and an abiding faith in the human spirit that allows us to revel in his ingenuity and hope that one man can triumph, no matter the odds.