Kedric Robin Wolfe says performing is the equivalent of a marathon. His latest effort, three shows in repertory, must be an Ironman triathlon.
Either way, "performance art" is an inadequate description. Wolfe is a one-man ensemble, invoking the scalp-prickling awe of watching a schizophrenic change personalities. He is a poetic storyteller who is simultaneously a character, narrator and commentator. And he is a dancer who draws fleeting images of flames and graffiti in the air.
It's easy to see how he got tired.
In the 1980s, Wolfe's collaboration with Scott Kelman, artistic director for Pipeline Inc., led to half a dozen shows that garnered awards and critical acclaim. And then, well . . . he got tired.
After nearly four years "out of the loop"--his phrase--Wolfe has re-emerged on the Los Angeles performance scene with a three-show series in repertory at Glaxa Studios in Silver Lake. He spent much of his time off practicing and teaching yoga in Topanga, his home for nearly 30 years.
Wolfe, 55, isn't shy about the reason for his four-year hiatus. He leans into the tape recorder in front of him and says in slow motion, "I'm \o7 laaaaaa-zzzzzzy."\f7
He had ideas circling overhead; he was just too tired to flag them down.
"It's sort of like a cloud up in the sky saying, 'Do me! Do me! Do me!' And I say, 'Oh, I'm busy. It's too much work. Leave me alone.' Then someone throws a deadline in your face, and you look up and say, 'Are you still up there?' "
The deadline came from producer Eric Trules, who convinced him to perform at Solo/LA, a series of one-person shows in April and May. Fortunately, the ideas were still hovering. One line that had been rattling around came in for a particularly harsh crash-landing: "A woman is being raped in the room next door. I know it to be so. I can hear it all through the paper-thin walls of oceans and continents."
For three weeks in March, Wolfe slipped back into the character of artist at work, not sleeping, hardly eating. He hammered away at a disturbing topic: society's complacency toward rape. He rehearsed in the solitude of Topanga, performing for only one woman before his Solo/LA show.
"Paper Thin Walls" rocked Solo/LA audiences and continues to gather positive reviews. It also terrifies its author. "It is the sticking out of one's neck artistically," he says. "I'm in conflict at certain moments of the piece. I don't exactly like thrusting a dark headline into the audience's face. They know it's going on."
When he needed a break from "Paper Thin Walls," Wolfe worked on other pieces. The topics--homelessness, graffiti, riots--seem just as depressing. But in addition to laser-sharp commentary, they offer more moments of levity. In "The Tags of Your Dreams," for example, graffiti taggers have attained such popularity that restaurants serve CHAKA Marinara.
Wolfe was caught up in a moment of creative exuberance when Ellen Geer called, as she does every year, to see if he'd perform at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum. He had refused for the last few years, but she tried again, Geer says, "because I love to see what comes out of his brain."
Wolfe had new things coming out of his brain and nowhere to perform them. So he said yes, thinking he had months to turn the pieces into an "Urban Quartet."
Then Richard Kaye, artistic director at Glaxa Studios, appeared with an offer so outrageous that it couldn't be refused. Could Wolfe do three shows in repertory? Starting in 2 1/2 weeks?
Kaye had a gap in his schedule, and Wolfe's reputation would bring some prestige to the year-old Glaxa. Wolfe said yes again.
"Sometimes you need someone to describe for you an ultimate feat that piques your interest and gets your juices flowing again," Kaye says. "It was like: What would you do if we gave you a million dollars, but you had to hold your breath for five minutes and then you had to wrestle with a shark. Would you?"
Weeks of nine-hour rehearsals behind him, Wolfe jokes about that challenge. "Start practicing holding your breath," he says, "and working with goldfish."
Kaye offered suggestions, but Wolfe essentially was directing himself, as he had for Solo/LA. Kelman, who produced and helped polish nearly all Wolfe's shows in the '80s, had moved to Portland, Ore. But Wolfe was ready. "Working with him sort of gives one an experience to lean on, even though he's not there," he says.
Kelman, who now runs a performance workshop in Portland, says Wolfe remains one of the best writers and performers he has come across. Their collaboration hatched such well-received shows as "Let Me Explain" and "There Was a Horse." Wolfe's two-act epic "Warren's Story" played in local theaters on and off for five years.
"It can be discouraging at times, when you get so much acclaim and you're still struggling to make a living," Kelman says. "People in Hollywood would rave about him, but they didn't know what to do with him. I'd say, 'Just do Kedric! What's your problem?' "