Edgar Oliver's New York Trilogy Returns to Axis Theatre Tonight
Axis Theatre served as the incubator and theatrical home for East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House (2009), In the Park (2014), and Attorney Street (2016), the three poignantly peculiar solo plays that make up New York's monologizing cult sensation Edgar Oliver's New York Trilogy.
Now, the company has announced the return of these three works in a back-to-back limited engagement. Each will run for a week, in the chronological order of their creation-and then the cycle will repeat.
From tonight, October 12, to November 18, the performer, poet, and storyteller will take audiences on a set of personal ghost tours of his fading New York-a place where queer artists and eccentrics were known to seek shelter and community, before the voracity of urban development began the rapid transformation of the city's socioeconomic, cultural, and architectural landscape. As Oliver, already a genuine outsider, confronts a world that becomes increasingly alien to him, he finds the immensity of love in tiny moments of passing connection with unknown men, beauty in the weeds that still dare to grow from the money-shellacked Manhattan streets, and benevolent specters in his memories of the places his singular life has taken him. These are delivered by a voice that at once evokes his birthplace, Savannah, Georgia, and Victorian England-the seeming provenance of his Gothic literature-steeped spirit.
Oliver created East 10th Street in 2009, with the encouragement of Axis Theatre's founder/artistic director Randy Sharp and producing director Brian Barnhart, who suggested he turn the stories he would tell them about his (now, former) S.R.O. boarding house-one of the city's last-into a play. Says Oliver on Yale University Radio, "people who live in rooming houses tend to go a bit bonkers. It's probably miraculous that I survived, which I think I did." Inhabiting the halls of this East 10th Street building (with its $16-weekly rents) were a superintendent who made sure to step lightly on the ghosts he claimed gathered on his floor and stared up at him, a possible Nazi-in-hiding, the landlord's former wet nurse who apparently lived in a nest of rags, and many other memorable persons around which the performance centers. Slowly, all of the others moved away, and Oliver ended up being the only tenant, completely alone there, for 16 years. As Ben Brantley notes in his New York Times review of East 10th Street, Oliver "finds warmth in the lonely darkness. He may sound like a ghoul, but he is oddly comforting company."
In 2014, Oliver approached Sharp and told her he wanted to make another show to perform at Axis-one that focused on his current New York life, rather than the stories he'd collected from his past. The resulting piece, In The Park, is a collage of writing-poems, short prose pieces, random musings-Oliver had done during and about his wanderings in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Here, the artist guides his audience to the hidden landscapes of the park, and of his own desires. This most personal of Oliver's monologues us a journey of loss and hope, joy and sadness, along tangled paths to the fascinating place that is Oliver's heart.
Finally, in 2016, it dawned on Oliver that these two works shared a thematic core, and that they could, in fact, be topped off by another New York play to form a trilogy-and so Attorney Street was born, detailing Oliver's life and residence on the titulaR Lower East Side street, after he was forced to leave the rooming house he had occupied for three decades. Between the two homes was a circuitous path that held turns and encounters that changed Oliver's life, and opened doors he never thought existed. Attorney Street ties all three works together, with allusions both to Prospect Park (particularly: a urinal in the adjacent botanical garden) and his former S.R.O. dwelling.
Edgar Oliver has been a fixture of the downtown New York scene for over three decades, and this trio of solo shows has brought him a new level of international acclaim. The autobiographical monologues comprising this series, now presented for the first time as a true trilogy, are keenly attuned to the concrete details of this city and Oliver's life. Beyond the locations and objects from which Oliver gets his unique form of rapturously melancholy inspiration, the performer also spends ample time, in all three pieces, meditating on the beauty of "men of the city." He asks, "What am I?" then answers his own question, "Some statue of solitude there on my bench, still dreaming of love."
These dreams would not sound quite so evocative if it weren't for Oliver's voice-a ghost story in itself. As described by Ben Brantley, it dips "in flight like a bat on the wing" as it pronounces vowels, leading "shadows [to] seem to gather around him, like dutiful pets summoned by a doting owner." Through that incantatory tone, activities as quotidian as a walk in Prospect Park, or a piss in a Dublin alley, evoke the awakening of the beautiful, rotting corpses of moments that Oliver felt deserved a theatrical séance.
East 10th Street: Self Portrait With Empty House begins performances Thurs., October 12 and runs through Sat., October 14, then resumes November 2-4. In The Park begins Thurs., October 19 and runs through Sat., October 21, and resumes November 9-11. Attorney Street begins Thurs., October 26, and runs through Sat., October 28, then resumes Nov. 16-18. All performances of all three plays begin at 8pm. Tickets for each are $30 for adults, $20 for seniors/students, and $10 for artists and people under 30. The performances are FREE for veterans and active U.S. service members and their families. Tickets can be purchased online at www.axiscompany.org or by calling TheaterMania at 212.352.3101.
Edgar Oliveris an Axis Company member. As a stage actor, he has performed in countless plays including Edward II with Cliplight Theater; Marc Palmieri's Carl the Second; Kestutis Nakas' When Lithuania Ruled the World and numerous productions at Axis including A Glance at New York (Edinburgh Festival Fringe & NYC), Julius Caesar; USS Frankenstein and the Hospital series. He has performed his solo show East 10th Street in Edinburgh (Fringe First Award), Charleston, SC (Spoleto Festival) and in New York City (Axis and PS122). He performed his 2012 one-man show Helen and Edgar (directed by Catherine Burns of The Moth), at Theatre 80 St. Marks, Dartmouth College, Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, and most recently at The Public Theater as part of the Under the Radar Festival. His film roles include That's Beautiful Frank; Henry May Long (directed by Randy Sharp) and Gentlemen Broncos (directed by Jared Hess). Oliver is also the host of the television show Odd Folks Home, on The Science Channel.
Randy Sharp (director) is Axis Theatre Company's founder and Artistic Director. Her plays include the Drama Desk Award-nominated Last Man Club (published by DPS), Nothing on Earth, Down There, Seven in One Blow (published by DPS and performed every December in NYC and around the country) and the long-running serial Hospital. Sharp wrote and directed The Vast Machine (2015), and co-wrote (with former Blondie member Paul Carbonara) and directed Evening - 1910, which premiered at acclaim at Axis in 2016.Sharp's directing credits also include Last Man Club, Nothing on Earth, Down There, Seven in One Blow, Hospital, Edgar Oliver's East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House (Fringe First Award, Edinburgh Fringe; Spoleto Festival USA 2011) and In the Park, A Glance at New York (Edinburgh Fringe & NYC), Julius Caesar and the U.S premiere of Sarah Kane's Crave, starring Deborah Harry.
Randy Sharp founded Axis Company in 1996. The company acquired a permanent home in 1998 at 1 Sheridan Square in New York City's West Village. Built in 1834 by Samuel Whitmore, the building once housed Café Society, the historic site of performances by Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughn, Art Tatum, Big Joe Turner and other jazz greats; and later was the home of Charles Ludlam's Ridiculous Theatrical Company. Axis transformed interior performance space into one where audiences are totally immersed, surrounded by the experience of a theatrical production the moment they enter. Distractions from the material are minimal.
Among the wide variety of works Axis has produced in the theater are Beckett's Play; Benjamin Baker's 1848 vaudeville A Glance at New York (also at the Edinburgh Festival); the U.S. premiere of Sarah Kane's Crave, starring Deborah Harry; the premieres of Edgar Oliver's East 10th Street (New York Times Critic Pick; Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Spoleto Festival, USA) and In the Park; David Crabb's Bad Kid (New York Times Critic Pick, now an acclaimed book published by HarperCollins Perennial); Marc Palmieri's The Groundling; and Sharp's The Vast Machine, Last Man Club (Drama Desk-nomination), Solitary Light, Nothing on Earth, Down There, Seven in One Blow and Hospital.