(Best of the Capital Fringe)
Robert Michael Oliver is a tour-de-force in his one-man show
It’s got to be tough to do a solo show, opening night at 9 p.m. on a sultry summer night, but remarkable, energetic, and seemingly tireless Robert Michael Oliver pulled it off without a noticeable drop of sweat. He is tour-de-force in Song of Myself: The Whitman Project that plays four more times at the CAOS on F.
“I celebrate myself,” Oliver declares in his opening monologue. He then went on to recite – or perhaps a better description would be “absorb” – the words of Walt Whitman. “I lean and loaf at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass,” continues the robust actor, at times a cross between Burl Ives and Oscar Wilde. At first he romps about the makeshift stage, stopping a moment to ponder a blade of grass, then Oliver falls to the floor with a roar, laughing aloud, perhaps, at Whitman’s egotistical poem.
Walt Whitman is near and dear to my heart as I attended college just a few steps from his Camden, New Jersey home. My mother is buried near his grave, a request she made before she died – she was a fan of Irish poetry and American folk tales, Leaves of Grass, among them. One reason, perhaps, why I requested to review this American classic brought to life by The Sanctuary Theatre & The Performing Knowledge Project, founded by Oliver and Elizabeth Bruce (who greeted us before and after the show).
Song of Myself is a complicated piece of work to mount in a stage production. How do you incorporate political, sexual, religious beliefs with just one guy on stage? Add pre-recorded music compositions, voiceover narrations, three war montages, and clips from a film shot in DC. At times, though, the clicking from an off-stage instrument diminished the words of Whitman, and the sound was often loud and jarring.
In this cozy space, the production seemed like a bigger theatrical experience, thanks to Elliot Lanes’ lighting with its many hues and variations to complement the narrator. Elizabeth Bruce’s costume design added authenticity to Oliver’s demeanor. Loved his casual, friendly entrance and exit, reminding us just how witty (and approachable) Whitman might have been.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Song of Myself: The Whitman Project plays through July 26 at Caos on F- 923 F Street NW, in Washington, D.C. For performance information and to purchase tickets, go their Capital Fringe Page.
Preview article on DCMetroTheaterArts.