Avner the Eccentric puts on a one-man circus.
A teeny-weeny circus, perhaps. But a circus nonetheless.
Just consider. Right there on the stage of Arena's Kreeger Theater, where he opened a four-week engagement last night, he juggles baseball bats, balances aluminum stepladders on his chin, walks across a tightrope, makes a plate of paper napkins disappear (by eating them), drops his pants and takes a high dive into a pool of water.
Well, actually, it isn't Avner who takes the dive. It's Avner's hand, masquerading as a wee person, and the pool is a paper cup filled with water. Avner is a great one for using his imagination. Still, the daring plunge is thrilling in its way.
The one thing Avner doesn't do is talk. He makes noises now and again -- some ruder than others. He whistles. He grunts. Sometimes he relies on a kazoo to express his thoughts. Mostly, though, he communicates through mime. Across his face flit all manner of expressions sweet and sour.
Avner is often delighted -- especially when he successfully concludes a trick. But he can get exasperated, too -- with himself for dropping the derby that was supposed to roll up his back and onto his head, or with the inevitable late comers, straggling to their seats after the show has begun. Generally, however, he seems happily surprised by life, applause and peacock feathers, which he likes to balance on his nose.
His eyes are mischievous black dots, ever on the lookout for fun and danger. His nose is as round and red as a ball, probably because it is a round, red ball. His beard is shaggy and his pants are baggy. All things considered, he reminds you of an Emmett Kelly who got up on the right side of the bed.
His show -- about 100 minutes of unusual feats and whimsical clowning -- is the sort that is usually described as appealing to the child in everyone. You know as well as anyone whether or not there's a child in you. If there is, Avner is likely to activate it. He certainly manages to coax a goodly number of spectators up on to the stage and persuade them to participate in his fanciful frivolities. Some of the ploys he springs on individual audience members are a bit low -- the whoopie cushion, for example. But he can demonstrate a sweet gallantry toward the ladies. He likes to get them to kiss him. But sometimes, he dives over their heads when they're not watching and turns somersaults at their feet -- all by way of picking up his derby off the floor.
Yes, it is eccentric. Avner (whose last name is Eisenberg) is not selling himself falsely. He's the kind of guy who pulls up his socks by reaching down inside the leg of his pants! I mean, he can build a whole routine around spitting little jets of water into the air. But his real pleasure comes from balancing things on his nose -- a rose, a towering stack of paper cups, a sheet of newspaper, a theater program.
He also eats his own face. In a fashion. Surprising as this may sound, in the context of the show, it is just more business as usual. This is how it comes about: Sitting down to a meal, he removes the silver cover from a dish to discover an appetizing stack of . . . paper napkins. With a pair of chopsticks, he promptly stuffs one into his mouth, then another, chomping away with a zest that flags only after he's reached, say, the 10th.
Suddenly, an idea strikes. (Ideas are always striking Avner.) Taking the next napkin, he punches two little holes in it for his eyes, a third for his nose, and covers his face with it, as if he were dozing in the sun. Then, his jaws start to stir. Slowly, inexorably, Avner eats that napkin, too. Only he's eating it from behind, you might say. The amazing effect is that he is truly devouring his own face.
There is obviously a metaphor of huge and enduring significance in all this. I just don't know what it is.