by Matt Roberson · January 12, 2014
Indie Artists on New Plays #35: Matt Roberson looks at Helen & Edgar an Under the Radar production Savannah is an onion of a town. It's layers are many, and something about it lingers long after the room key is turned in. That a performer like Edgar Oliver is from this place does not surprise. Oliver is, like the town in which many of his stories occur, equally complex and interesting and, most of all, deeply mysterious. Unlike Savannah, however, I can't wait to see Edgar Oliver again.
Oliver's early years, living in an old, ivy-strewn house with his sister Helen and "Mother," was, in all ways, unique. Mother was a painter and bohemian, who liked taking long drives to interesting places. Her work focused mostly on decrepit houses and the less-desirable neighborhoods nearby. And whether or not people were buying her art, Louise Oliver continued to do this thing she so clearly loved doing. Edgar Oliver, who after 35 years on stage is still hardly a house hold name, is a master performer, and has obviously benefitted from her dedication.
The other side to Mother was, however, less positive. Her emotions were erratic, and she would often climb atop their shed to "claw" at the night sky. She was also deeply needy, often asking Helen and Edgar to tell her what a great mother and cook she was (even though roaches had long ago taken over the kitchen). She also couldn't stand to be alone. For at least several years, the three shared a bed. Later, if Edgar and his sister went out with a friend, they would always meet Mother at the IHOP on their way home, lest she be left alone in the house waiting. It is this desperation and suffocation that forces Helen and Edgar to make the drastic decision at the heart of the evening's most moving story.
In each of the six or seven stories making up Helen & Edgar, Oliver displays a beautiful vulnerability, opening a window into his past for anyone willing to go. I went, and had no trouble seeing his house, his family, or the black lagoon of a swimming pool at the center of one of my favorite tales. Turning away is also impossible because of Edgar's unique style, which is slow and methodical, and built upon his thickly-accented baritone voice.
90 minutes of bare-bones, intermission-free storytelling may not sound like much, but trust me: Helen & Edgar is worth your time. The stories are like none you've ever heard, and I think you'll find Oliver's fully-formed style hypnotic and moving. I certainly can't wait to hear more.