Review by Kathleen Campion
Edgar Oliver tells the tale of Attorney Street with disarming innocence, addressing the audience with a sweet familiarity, as though we were already his confidants whom he is trusting with yet another story.
Attorney Street is the third deeply personal monologue in a trilogy tracing Oliver’s eccentric life in New York City. And while the piece certainly stands on its own delicate feet in the moody expanse of the Axis Theater’s gently lit stage, it demands the opportunity to see and hear the others (In the Park and, before it, East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House).
The story of Attorney Street focuses on Oliver’s move, from his beloved East 10th Street SRO, to a new place on the Lower East Side, on Attorney Street. The autobiographical story is less about boxes and moving vans and more about a primal wound, a life’s search for self, an empty space within. It is, of course, his telling that signifies. He is funny and warm, wide-eyed and thoughtful, charming and vulnerable. All that said, the evening resolves in a brutal sadness, as he concludes his primal wound has not, cannot heal.
Oliver’s storytelling and performance are intimate and personal. What’s more, there is a singularity in his voice and the way he uses his hands that is quite evident, but at the same time sneaks up on you, as you wait for him to “do it again!”
He uses his hands with enormous delicacy to inform small moments and underscore poetic flights. His peculiar accent and diction are at once distracting and compelling. He rattles along, speaking normally, then hits a word he caresses with what seems both a mispronunciation of vowels and an elongating of the sound. He lingers on single syllables as in an embrace.
In a podcast with The Moth’s Catherine Burns, Oliver describes his mother’s speech as “innocent” and “full of wonder.” He said she had a “way of speaking like a child.” He apparently learned at her knee. All that said, and as affected as it first seems, I came away certain it is authentic — that if you woke him in the night he would sound the same.
The house was pin-drop quiet as Oliver’s unique voice washed over us. The amplification was so well done as to make one wonder if it was enhanced at all or simply sublime on its own terms.
A supremely confident performer, with a patina of shyness about him, Oliver inhabits the stage —a bare space informed only by subtle lighting and a low wall on which he occasional perches — completely. He regales us with telling anecdotes — the East Village bakers the Cheeryble Brothers whom he loved and lost; the man holding his small son whom Oliver meets at a public urinal; the witchy nun who terrorized his sixth-grade-self; and the beautiful boy who came once to play but never came again. Among Oliver’s many gifts (remember he is writing and performing these tales) is his ability to lead us into a Dublin alley to pee, to set us up for hilarity, and then suddenly bring us to poignant tears.
Attorney Street is a genuinely special night of small pleasures in the downtown theater.
Attorney Street – By Edgar Oliver; directed by Randy Sharp
With: Edgar Oliver as himself.
Designed by Chad Yarborough; lighting byDavid Zeffren. At the Axis Theatre is located at 1 Sheridan Square in the West Village through November 19. Running time is one hour with no intermission.