The actor stands upon the naked stage, bathed in a drizzle of soft light - statuesque like the figure of a boy in the fountain in a park in Baltimore he remembers from his youth. The man is of a certain age with patrician bearing and measured speech - each word meted out in mellifluous tones as if they were being spent from a treasury whose balance is not quite what it once was. The speech is unique and idiosyncratic - hypnotic in cadence. the long vowel in "park" drawn out in a manner that is arresting and inviting. The sound is not quite Kennedy-esque, but neither is it of his native Savannah. It seems as if Edgar Oliver must have made a stop along his journey from The Garden of Good and Evil to Prospect Park - a sojourn in an elocution class.
Each segment of the monologue is set apart by a slight pause, as if Mr. Oliver were waiting for the slide show playing in his memory to cycle to the next slide. Then the light goes on once more in his eyes and he is off again recounting another visit to his beloved Prospect Park - the bridge, the lagoon, the park bench. The monologue has an appropriately attenuated and limited emotional and dramatic range, the dynamic fluctuating between mezzo-piano and mezzo-forte, as if we were hearing a mellow viola playing muted partitas.
As the actor invites the audience to accompany him vicariously on his expeditions to Prospect Park, he also describes some of the stops in his life's journey. The summer treks from Savannah to Baltimore that became a yearly tradition. The aforementioned fountain with the boy poised as if he were Peter Pan about to take flight. The image - wanting to fly and never grow up - seems to ground much of the monologue and much of the actor's psyche.
The feel of Mr. Oliver's musings shifts as he recounts an encounter with a young man in the Park. The denizen of the neighborhood is dressed gangsta style, pants hanging below his buttocks revealing the boxers beneath. He approaches and offers sexual favors in return for cash to fuel his drug habit. The audience is spellbound. What will happen next? A dangerous moment transforms into a tender recollection of a prolonged embrace and two gentle kisses on Mr. Oliver's neck. Perhaps what he has been saying is that he longs to hang onto that feeling of being young and free, to connect in whatever way possible with his own youth as mirrored in a young black drug user. I could not help but be reminded of another Brooklyn artist. Walt Whitman had an affinity for youth and "rough trade."
The actor's narration of this signal moment in the Park - his candor and his vulnerability - is not prurient but poignant. He has invited us unashamedly into the inner sanctum. Now, it is not only the stage that is naked; the artist himself has disrobed emotionally and metaphorically before us. And then, just before wrapping up his musing monologue, he assumes the pose of the naked boy in the fountain in the park.
Fade to black - and Mr. Oliver flies away into the wings Stage Left. And we are left to ruminate on all that we have seen and heard.
It is a memorable evening well spent.
Directed by Randy Sharp
Lighting by David Zeffren
Original Music by Paul Carbonara
The play will run through June 7 at Axis Theatre, One Sheridan Square in the West Village
Axis Company Website