A juggler's gamble


Fur -- and heaven knows what else -- may fly on Friday and Saturday when the Flying Karamazov Brothers perform "Sharps, Flats and Accidentals" as part of Center Stage's Off Center Festival.

Although the members of the four-man troupe -- Howard Jay Patterson, Paul Magid and newcomers Mark Ettinger and Roderick Kimball -- are neither brothers nor aerialists nor, obviously, named Karamazov, they are jugglers, musicians, actors and comedians.

"Sharps, Flats and Accidentals" is primarily a compendium of greatest musical hits from their past shows. And the Karamazovs take the word "hit" literally. For example, they perform Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" by pounding the melody out on their heads (covered, of course, with helmets rigged with concealed electronics).

As always, a highlight of the evening will be "The Gamble," in which Karamazov veteran Patterson attempts to juggle three objects offered by the audience.

The stunt evolved, Patterson explained recently, during the early days of the troupe, which is now well into its third decade. "At the time, we said, 'What are they going to have in the audience?' We thought shoes, purses, maybe an umbrella. We had no idea people would become so obsessed with it."

"The Gamble" has a few rules: The object must be heavier than one ounce, lighter than 10 pounds and smaller than a breadbox. Live animals are forbidden, as is anything that would prevent Patterson "from being a live animal myself," as he has put it. "We used to juggle things like circular saw blades and broken bottles when people would bring them," he says. "I was in my early 20s. I healed faster."

He has three tries to juggle the objects for a count of 10.

If he wins, he is rewarded with a standing ovation. If he loses, he gets a pie in the face. Patterson estimates his success rate at 70 percent. "Given any three objects and a sufficient amount of time, I could figure out how to juggle them," he says.

Here then (with Patterson providing color commentary) is his list of 10 of the weirdest and/or toughest objects the audience has ever supplied:

* A trombone. "I played 'Getting Sentimental Over You,' then tossed it over my shoulder."

* A beef tongue. "An amazing texture -- like being licked by a cow."

* A water balloon with nails inside it.

* A cardboard box containing a golf ball, suspended from the eight corners with rubber bands. "A clever object. When you catch it, the golf ball makes it bobble just slightly."

* A pig's head. "It weighed more than 10 pounds, so they cut chunks out of the face."

* A 9 1/2 -pound octopus. "When I would hold it at shoulder height, the tentacles would touch the ground."

* A guitar full of dead mice.

* A pig's stomach stuffed with lime gelatin. "I could see through the walls of the stomach something green inside. I thought, 'Oh, great. I'm going to get covered with the pig's last meal.' "

* A bag of dead frogs. "The other two objects were a chocolate cream pie and a Slinky."

And last, and toughest yet:

* A curved, 8-inch-diameter steel cylinder with three iron weights of different sizes inside. "The single hardest object to juggle."

Nicely off center

What: "Sharps, Flats and Accidentals"

Where: Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.

When: 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $30

Call: 410-332-0033

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