Saturday, October 22, 2011

Wolfe! on Wolfe

Tom Wolfe

by contributor Donna Shor
Photo credit: Bruce Guthrie

 The audience at the Newseum was delighted to hear a reading excerpted from Wolfe! the unfinished play about the author Tom Wolfe—and so was Wolfe himself who came down from New York for the event.

Rene Auberjonois
He admitted he was curious about what he would hear, especially since they were his own words woven by playwright Judith Auberjonois into a magnificent monologue.

She had long been fascinated by the work of the iconoclastic author and has worked her way through much of his writings to create her script.  When still a young writer, Wolfe upset the New York literary world as one of the leaders of the “New Journalism,” applying colorful fiction techniques to non-fiction reportage.  

He turned the English language on its head, spinning out unexpected word usages, deconstructing the expected phrase, attracting attention to his offbeat ideas and interests.

This was all long before he produced the astronauts’ tale, “The Right Stuff,” or the mirror held to contemporary life, “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

From Wolfe’s welter of words, Judith Auberjonois has gleaned a rich harvest.  And who best to interpret it?  The prime candidate, of course, her husband Rene Auberjonois, the esteemed Tony-winning actor of stage, screen and television (think Odo of  “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” or Paul Lewiston of Boston Legal”). 

When he took stage at the Newseum, a tall figure in all-black shirt, vest and trousers (a riff on Wolfe’s signature white suit) his delivery of the complex material was electrifying....great theater.  

“I am not,” he said “trying to pretend I’m Tom Wolfe. I’m trying to create the character within the words.” Then began the torrent of Wolfeian words, rushing along like some rogue river, carrying us with it, reveling in the humor, the whimsy, caught up in sheer enjoyment. It was a tour-de-force.

Queried on the completion date of her play, Judith fielded it: “I really don’t know when it will be finished.”  She wasn’t being coy.  Just consider the full title, harking back to a mere part of Tom Wolfe’s prolific output: "Wolfe! The Electric Kool-Aid Ice-Cream-Suited Right Stuff Man-in-Full-on the Beat."