According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Self Portrait with Empty House

Buildings, like people hold many secrets. In Self Portrait with Empty House, actor and playwright Edgar Oliver reveals the secrets of his own building, in this captivating one-man show.

Photo/Dixie Sheridan

Reviewed by Ilana Novick

Edgar Oliver’s one-man play, East Tenth Street: Self Portrait with Empty House, is an unsentimental yet utterly captivating glimpse into a building and the people that give it life. Oliver takes the stage as a tour guide for the tenement building he’s lived in since his early days in New York. Its residents, because of their interests, age, or mental state, are often relegated to the fringes of society, but Oliver puts them front and center, displaying an entire world with nothing more than his words, his hands, voice and memories.

The bare set highlights Oliver, whose black-clad body practically blends in with the stage, leaving only his face and hands illuminated. That’s the point, for his hands and face are the deft instruments that sing of Freddie the often-naked dwarf and Kabbalah enthusiast; Donald the alcoholic postman, and Frances, the landlord’s former wet nurse, now senile, whose now spends her time cleaning her rag collection. The lives, told as anecdotes, are shocking enough to keep the audience’s attention—everyone’s out to kill someone, the superintendent greets residents wearing only a towel, and Freddie spends a suspicious amount of time mixing and guarding a mysterious green liquid that might be made from urine.

The way Oliver’s hands dance to his stories is rhythmic and vivid, like he’s forming his neighbors out of thin air, introducing them to the audience without them being present. His eyes also play a starring role, widening with terror when a neighbor tries to hit him over the head, narrowing (and accompanied by with maniacal laughter) when death is narrowly averted.

Oliver says he loves to observe things inside and outside of his building, taking walks through various parts of the city, reveling in the most desolate areas, looking for the barest hints of life. This might seem voyeuristic, but the play doesn’t treat his neighbors like circus curiosities. Though they don’t meet happy ends, Oliver manages to convey their demises with a sadness mixed with the barest hint of ghoulish glee. It takes a very charismatic performer to stand on a stage and talk about his apartment building, and have it feel as if you’ve actually followed him down the rabbit hole. With Randy Sharp’s taut direction, and Oliver’s eye for detail and sense of genuine concern and wonder, East Tenth Street manages to take you into another world.

Self Portrait with Empty House (1 hour, no intermission)
Axis Theater (One Sheridan Square)
Tickets: see
Performances (through 11/22): Thurs. - Sat. @ 8pm.

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