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Boston Globe

A Whimsical Avner has just the right touch

By Louise Kennedy | 29 November 2006

Avner the Eccentric makes hard things look easy and easy things look impossible. In short, he’s a master clown.

As such, he’s almost beyond criticism. Writing about a clown’s act because it’s funny works about as well as gluing a soap bubble to the wall because it’s pretty. It’s the evanescent lightness of the thing that makes it irresistible and elusive.

In his 80-minute show “Exceptions to Gravity,” now at the Lyric Stage Company, Avner Eisenberg dons the silent persona of his nouveau-vaudevillian alter ego, Avner the Eccentric. In plain clothes accented by red shoes and suspenders and a black bowler hat, Avner drops matches and picks them up. He makes a bouquet out of a newspaper. He balances a ladder on his nose. When his hat falls off, he puts it back on. And so forth.

And it’s funny, touching, and something very close to art. Which is not to say that it takes itself too seriously. One of Avner’s charms is the way he smiles self-deprecatingly at his silliest moments, as if he knows that this is a faintly ridiculous way for a grown man to make a living. Of course, it’s ridiculous, he seems to say — but then, what isn’t?

You will understand that a certain tolerance for whimsy is essential here; you will also note that it really doesn’t add up to very much. There’s even a moment or two when you may find yourself wondering whether the act could have used a little more structure. But then Avner starts playing silly tricks with a stack of paper cups, and you stop thinking and start laughing again.

That’s as it should be. This is, after all, vaudeville. Sure, it’s taking place in a legitimate theater, and it has a legitimate-theater kind of conceit: that this whole act is just a way of passing the time before the real show begins, which of course it never does. But Avner leans only lightly on that conceit — the program cites “Godot,” but he doesn’t — and so his act doesn’t sink under its weight.

It’s worth noting, too, that this is that rare thing: a “family” show that really is for families. The older kids may start out thinking they’re too cool for it — for that matter, so may the younger adults — but Avner’s low-key, just-playing-around-here affect will get them chortling before they realize it.

Did I mention the bit with the invisible string? Where he gets someone up out of the audience, and then he pretends to tie this imaginary string around her fingers, and then he tugs it, and . . . Forget it. It won’t sound like anything much. But it truly is something to see.

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