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Avner the Eccentric takes flight in ‘Exceptions to Gravity’

November 17, 2020
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What do you think of when you think of clowns? You probably have a pretty specific picture in your head, no? But here’s the thing – there’s so much more to clowning than giant shoes and greasepaint grins. It’s part of a grand performance tradition, one that goes back centuries, a meticulous and hilarious brand of physical comedy that has long endured.

There are modern practitioners of this weird and beautiful brand of slapstick performance, renowned clowns whose antics have commanded the attention of audiences all over the world.

Avner the Eccentric is one such practitioner, a beloved and acclaimed performer who is considered to be one of the greatest clowns in the world by those with an understanding of such things. And now, you can experience that greatness in your very own home.

“Exceptions to Gravity” is a show that Avner has performed around the world and now – thanks to a cooperative agreement with Penobscot Theatre Company – you can stream a heretofore-unseen filmed version of that show as one of the offerings for PTC’s unconventional season. You can purchase access or find more information at www.penobscottheatre.org.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had my doubts. Would this brand of physical comedy translate to the screen, or would some of the shine of the brilliance be lost? Is the shared energy of an in-person audience absolutely necessary to the full experience? As someone with an affinity for this flavor of performance, would the separation from physical proximity undermine what I saw?

To my delight, my doubts proved largely unfounded. As it turns out, there’s a reason that so many people deem Avner the Eccentric to be among the best in the world at what he does: he’s among the best in the world at what he does. And that greatness barely misses a beat in the leap from the stage to the screen; the clown’s boundless energy, exquisite timing and unwavering commitment all translate.

And of course, there’s the physicality. There is something truly remarkable about the flexibility and fluidity of Avner’s movements; the sense of constant, intimate control is constant and compelling. With nary a wasted movement, he turns simple objects – a broom, a chair, a stack of cups – into comedic weapons, firing at will at the funny bones of his audience. Combining a projected irreverence with a deceptive precision, he moves through space with a goofball grace.

But maybe the most impressive aspect of the entire performance is the fact that he does it all without saying a word.

Think about that. Avner the Eccentric takes to the stage for an hour-plus, devoted fully and wholeheartedly to telling a story to the audience … and he does it without speaking. It’s not a silent show, mind you – there is sound. It’s the incidental sound that comes with existing as a living thing and interacting with the world around you.

(Oh, and since this edition of “Exceptions to Gravity” was filmed in front of a live audience back in the before times, there are laughs. Lots and lots of laughs. In fact, there’s one guy – you’ll know him when you see him, trust me – who is very visibly and audibly having an incredibly good time; the genuine delight he is deriving from his experience tells you everything you need to know about why live performance is vitally important.)

Describing the act itself doesn’t really make sense; the magic of it is seeing it unfold before your eyes. It is such a purely physical, kinetic medium that, much as it pains me to say, words fail me. It’s about how it feels to watch truly purposeful movement; the less you know about what Avner the Eccentric is going to do, the more fun you will have when he does it. It’s fascinating to watch; small actions writ large, large ones made small, a meticulously crafted ode to joy.

The opportunity to watch the best in the world at something do that something is a rare one. Penobscot Theatre Company and Avner the Eccentric are giving you just such an opportunity. I’ll wager you’ve never seen anything quite like it. So sit back, have a laugh … and watch one of the greats take flight.

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 12:20

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