Theater review: Edgar Oliver is not so misunderstood

Edgar Oliver stars in the one-man show “Helen & Edgar.”

Here’s the thing about one-man shows: There’s a 50/50 chance they’ll suck, and even the best ones shouldn’t have the hubris to last past an hour and a half. But “Helen & Edgar” is the exception. Hailed by best-selling author Neil Gaiman as a “genius,” Edgar Oliver was first discovered at the famous storytelling showcase, The Moth. His talent for telling the true tales of his riveting, “Grey Gardens”-esque childhood catapulted him into popularity, leading to his two-hour one-man show now playing at Theater 80.

In it, Oliver recounts chapters of his unique adolescence in Savannah, Ga., in the company of his mother, Louise, and sister, the titular Helen: “Mother used to say to us, ‘Beware of other people. They won’t understand you. We’re different. We’re artists.’ So all throughout my childhood it was always just the three of us: Mother, Helen and me.”

Raised in the wounded, delusional abstract of reality dictated by their sick mother, the siblings see nothing strange about living in a house towering with trash and treasures, well before the age of “Hoarders.” The ivy-clad domicile becomes the lens through which Oliver’s oral Bildungsroman is framed. “All the rooms upstairs were stacked to the rafters with trunks and chests of drawers and crates and armoires and boxes all locked and filled with Mother’s secrets,” Oliver explains in his hypnotic, hyper-articulate cadence. “Almost no one ever made it into our house, especially relatives. Mother was deeply suspicious of relatives.”

Oliver takes listeners on a raw, riveting and — despite its eccentricity — highly relatable journey. After all, what adult hasn’t suffered along the path to freedom from their parents and past? But can these two especially affected siblings ever truly escape their mother and become well-adjusted independents? It’s just $25 for one hell of a fascinating Southern Gothic folktale to find out.

If you go
   
‘Helen & Edgar’
Through Oct. 27
Theater 80
80 St. Marks Pl.
$25, 866-811-4111
www.helenandedgar.com


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