99-015 (Brown Comedy Festival)
Distributed September 8, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Glenn Hare

Theater department to host Brown Comedy Festival through October

Jokes, jugglers, cranks and crackpots will spread a little jocularity during the Brown Comedy Festival. Hosted by the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance, the festival will showcase silent clown Avner the Eccentric, a production of the French farce A Flea in Her Ear, theater critic John Lahr of the New Yorker, and others. The festival begins Sept. 14, 1999, and continues through October.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Hoping to spread a little jocularity before the University community gets well into the academic year, the Department of Theatre, Speech and Dance will try to loosen up the atmosphere with a bit of laughter. As part of this year's special events calendar, the department is hosting the Brown Comedy Festival beginning this month. The festival will include jokes, juggling, cranks and crackpots. "The festival is an attempt to lighten things up a bit," said department chair Don Wilmeth.

The laughter begins with a performance/demonstration by Avner the Eccentric, a silent clown who makes the most of out simple props like ladders, a pack of cigarettes and brooms. Avner, whose full name is Avner Eisenberg, is probably best known for his role as "The Jewel" in the movie The Jewel of the Nile staring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Avner will present segments of his one-man show and answer audience questions afterward. His presentation takes place in the Leeds Theatre at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14.

On Friday, Sept. 17, Ralph Allen will present "The Rhythm, Style and Meaning of Jokes" at 8 p.m. in the Leeds Theatre. An expert on burlesque, and described "as one of the funniest men to tell a story," Allen will demonstrate how jokes are constructed from set up to punch line. Allen received a Tony Award nomination for his work on the Broadway musical Sugar Babies, which ran for more than seven years. His most recent book is The Best Burlesque Sketches.

"By no means is the festival all frivolity," said Wilmeth, "it has several academic components as well."

Ron Jenkins, a leading expert on comedy throughout much of the world, will give a visual presentation on the work of Italian dramatist, actor and theatre activist Dario Fo. Jenkins author of Subversive Laughter: The Liberating Power of Comedy and Acrobats of the Soul, also has written a new translation/adaptation of Fo's Noble Prize-winning play We Won't Pay, We Won't Pay, which is in production at the American Repertory Theatre. Jenkins' lecture is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 30, at 4 p.m. in Room 007 of Lyman Hall.

The John Hay Library will present "What's So Funny About That?" an exhibition showcasing artifacts of wit and humor from the University's special collection archives. The exhibit runs through October.

Anchoring the festival is the department's production of the French farce A Flea in Her Ear, written by George Feydeau. A masterpiece of 19th-century comedy, it is considered by some to be one of the funniest plays ever written. It tells the tale of a wife testing her husband's fidelity by sending herself a letter from an imaginary admirer. "It's funny, fast paced and full of romantic and sexual innuendo," said theatre professor Spencer Golub, who is directing the production. The production runs Oct. 14-17 and Oct. 21-23 at 8 p.m., and at 3 p.m. on Oct. 24 in the Stuart Theatre. Tickets are $13 for the general public, $9 for senior citizens and Brown employees and $5 for students.

Arrangements also are being finalized for John Lahr, theatre critic for the New Yorker, to give a lecture on the "Comedy of Revenge" later this semester, Wilmeth said. Lahr is the author of numerous books, among them the award-winning Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization: Backstage with Barry Humpries. His presentation will focus on the work of such comedic giants as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Barry Humphries, Rosanne, Woody Allen, Joe Orton, and his father, Bert Lahr.

In the spring, the festival will continue with actor, entertainer and playwright Bill Irwin. Irwin has appeared in The Regard of Flight and Waiting for Godot. He is the winner of a special Tony Award for his work on the Broadway play Fool Moon, and is the first American performing artist to receive a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

All festival lectures and demonstrations are free and open to the public. The Leeds and Stuart Theatres are located in the Catherine Bryan Dill Center for the Performing Arts, 77 Waterman Street. For ticket information or reservations, call the Box Office at (401) 863-2838.