East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House (3 stars)

This article is from 2009.

East 10th Street: Self Portrait with Empty House

Three storeys of NYC stories

Edgar Oliver will not be the only actor taking on the Everyman persona this August. Like innumerable stand-up comics and solo performers, he presents himself as the still centre of a chaotic world. By identifying with him, we can share his strange experiences and laugh as one.

Except there is something distinctly un-Everyman about Oliver. Billed as a ‘legendary New York theatre icon’, he narrates his own story about living in a Big Apple rooming house with a fascinatingly emphatic delivery and an actorly accent so ripe it sounds as if he learnt to speak English by careful study of old Laurence Olivier recordings.

It means that when he details the goings on of the curious residents who rent rooms in the same house as him and his sister – and they do indeed sound an oddball lot – you can’t help wondering what eccentric contribution Oliver made to the place himself. Unless you count the story of his infatuation and near seduction of a younger actor – a narrative that seems awkwardly tacked on to the main body of his piece – you never really find out. To his credit, Oliver was never whisked away into care, which is the fate of most of his fellow residents.

What you do get is an amusing collage of eccentricity as he itemises the neurotic – not to mention lethal – habits of his housemates, ranging from obsessive cleaning to the bottling of faeces. He relates it all with such a wide-eyed sense of wonder that you find yourself marvelling – and laughing – at the variety of human behaviour rather than getting hung up about mental illness.

It adds up to a vivid vignette, but one that has no greater purpose than a good yarn entertainingly told.

Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until16 Aug & 24 Aug, times vary, £14–£16 (£10–£11).

East 10th Street

  • 3 stars

NYC theatre icon Edgar Oliver weaves a fantastical and hilarious voyage through an East Village tenement building inhabited by dwarfs, cabalists and possible Nazis! 'A living work of theater all by himself' (New York Times).

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