SAN DIEGO — When you tell the story of someone's life, where do you begin?
In "Warren's Story," a one-man show at San Diego Repertory Theatre through March 8, Kedric Robin Wolfe tells a three-generation saga beginning with his Uncle Warren, the mad barber of Canton, Ohio.
It's hard to imagine anyone else pulling off this sometimes convoluted, incredibly personal, many-men-in-one-man show. But Wolfe has a vision about how these lives and several others fit together and, if you hang in there, he'll present it all with a great big bow. It's worth the wait, especially with all the little gems he throws in along the way.
Wolfe starts by singing, as his father. Hunched over a workbench, laboring with a blowtorch almost as if he has started by building the show itself, his voice is deep and sorrowful, as he sings, with a darkening thread of disbelief: "There will be peace in the valley, someday."
Then he talks about his father, and his Uncle Warren, a barber who joined the Marines in World War II, slaughtered his way out of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and returned home a hero, only to become the town drunk.
Warren does become a hero one more time, though. He saves a young girl from a car wreck, and the young Kedric falls in love with her. That girl has a child, and what happens to that child is what "Warren's Story" is all about.
Wolfe surprises often, whether it is by crawling on his belly in the 'jungle' of a bare stage, or leaping up on a chair like a cat. But he is never more astonishing than at the beginning when the thing that is most striking about him is the tall, lanky, balding ordinariness of the man. How can someone who looks like someone you've met three times and whose name you still can't remember, seize your attention and keep it for two hours?
Of course, that's before you see that his face is made of rubber and he moves like a Kabuki dancer.
The set design by Wolfe and Alex Wright has a minimal number of carefully chosen props that allow Wolfe to transform himself without distractions. The lighting designer, R.S. Hoyes, modulates the mood by changing the colors and casting shadows on the high, curved screen that overarches the stage. In this way he creates scenery by projecting the shadow of a house in one moment, the shadow of a palm frond in another. It is fitting--what could be more appropriate than shadows when we are dealing with memory?
"Warren's Story" is a co-production by the San Diego Repertory Theatre and the Los Angeles-based Pipeline Inc. Scott Kelman, Pipeline's founder and artistic director, directed this show in a way that maintains the needed tug of tension within the easy, folksy flow.
Kelman also directed this show in Los Angeles, where it won two Dramalogue Awards and the Los Angeles Weekly's Awards for Performance and Creation in 1985.
One note of warning--this play is not without its dogmatic side. Wolfe has some fervent messages about making love, not war, and if you have any quarrel with these opinions being stated unequivocally, you may have trouble with the show. But, if you don't: go. Kedric Robin Wolfe is someone worth watching. And, more importantly, you'll have a wonderful time.
"WARREN'S STORY" By Kedric Robin Wolfe. Director, Scott Kelman. Production, Alex Wright. Lighting, R.S. Hoyes. Set, Kedric Robin Wolfe and Alex Wright. Sound, Alex Wright and Jodi Cramer. With Kedric Robin Wolfe. At 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sundays. Closes March 8. At Lyceum Space, Horton Plaza.