Writer: Edgar Oliver
Director: Randy Sharp
Reviewer: Alithea Howes
Edgar Oliver is a strange man. His emotions are not passionate, that word seems too active, rather they are deep and enduring. His voice is languid, resonant, and hauntingly strange. One’s best guest at placing the origin of his accent is Halloween Town. The story he tells is fittingly haunted, not by real ghosts but by loss; the loss of a friend, the loss of a home, the loss of a very specific time and place. This ghostly feel is accented by Chad Yarborough’s set, a simple grid of evenly spaced black blocks, evokes the buildings, city blocks, and stoops where the play is set, but also indicates the evenly spaced plots of a grave yard. Oliver’s casual but all black costume, designed by Karl Ruckdeschel, quietly suggests mourning. And this is primarily a play about mourning.
The main focus of this play is the recently deceased Victor: the focus of Oliver’s deep, enduring, but restrained, affection. Oliver calls this relationship “An Impossible Love,” one in a string of many unrequited crushes on straight men that develops into a deep friendship. Oliver loves Victor, but always from a distance, too wrapped up in his own anxieties to fully connect. The distance between them is palpable but so is the affection. In speaking about Victor, Oliver reveals himself to be someone who longs for connection almost as much as he fears it.
“Victor’s personality was too strong to work behind the counter at a diner,” Oliver explains when speaking about his friend losing a job. After a thoughtful pause he adds, “he often told people that he was a werewolf.” The way Oliver mythologizes him, one would only be half surprised if he really was. Victor is just as strange as Oliver. He remains jobless and homeless for the remainder of his life, staying in touch with Oliver via writings on scraps of newspaper shoved through Oliver’s mail slot.
The world of this play, though based entirely on real events, always seems to hover on the edge of a fairytale. The 1980’s East Village he speaks about sounds almost impossibly different from its modern incarnation. Where a block on Tenth Street is its own small town, with a “king of the block” and neighbors who know each other, though half of them are homeless or squatting. This play is a poem that evokes the eerie, yet magical, feeling one gets in the rare moment of being completely alone in New York City. It feels like stepping into a slightly different reality.
No small amount of credit for creating this world goes to David Zeffren’s subtle, but evocative, lighting design and Paul Carbonara’s haunting, delicate, and emotionally rich music. Not content with simple underscoring, the music, played by Carbonara, Samuel Quiggins, and Yonatan Gutfeld, became Oliver’s storytelling partner, creating both mood, sound effects, and occasionally extra characters.
This echoes the effect of living a solitary life in New York City. Oliver is often left to his thoughts, but there are always other people on stage, taking up varying levels of attention. Sometimes they support his mood, sometimes they play against it. Sometimes they make an alarming racket. This seems to be the level of intimacy that Oliver wishes from life. Someone who truly wants to be alone would not live in New York City. He wants people to be there. Just…a little ways away.
Runs until 27 October 2019 | Photo Credit: Pavel Antonov