Actor Takes On The Big, Bad ‘Wolfe’

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Perhaps the opening line of Judith Auberjonois’s “Big Bad Wolfe!: The Electric Kool-Aid Kandy-Kolored Right Stuff Man in the Ice-Cream-Suit” says it all.“I didn’t have anything in mind, much less literary, when I took my first journalism job,” the actor René Auberjonois will utter, in the words of author Tom Wolfe, when he takes the stage at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Friday, June 28.

The one-man show, written by Ms. Auberjonois and performed by her Tony Award-winning husband, will be a celebration of the writings of Mr. Wolfe, whom Mr. Auberjonois calls “one of the most important writers of the latter half of the 20th century.”

The montage of Mr. Wolfe’s writings, beginning with his time as a reporter at the New York Herald Tribune, will continue to his eventual evolution in becoming a novelist, according to Mr. Auberjonois. Some of the works considered in his monologues will include “Bonfire of the Vanities,” “All the Right Stuff,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and “Radical Chic,” among others.

“It’s a very cleverly crafted and knitted together series of pieces,” Mr. Auberjonois said of his wife’s stage play about the best-selling author. “For me, it’s like jazz—the words are just so … the energy and the language, the humor …”

The idea for “Big Bad Wolfe!” came to Ms. Auberjonois close to four decades ago, according to her husband.

“It all really started in the ’70s. I did a marvelous evening with Stan Lee; this was way ahead of the time of the comic book superhero, but Stan Lee was a real force in the world,” Mr. Auberjonois recalled during a telephone interview last month from his Hollywood Hills, California, home. “I read a piece from Spider Man and Tom Wolfe read a piece from Captain America.”

“We became inspired by the idea of doing some reading of his stuff,” he said of his and his wife’s initial interest in Mr. Wolfe.

After the reading, the actor reported that he sent a letter to the author, asking for permission to write a one-man play using his words.

“He was very gracious,” Mr. Auberjonois recalled. “I received this amazing calligraphic—is that a word?—response. In principle, it sounded like something he would be agreeable to. But then shortly thereafter ‘Bonfire’ came out and it kind of evaporated.”

“But Judith kept thinking about it,” he continued.

Then she learned that Isaiah Sheffer was planning an evening to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” with novelist Rick Moody interviewing Mr. Wolfe onstage. Ms. Auberjonois suggested that her husband read a selection from the novel. He did, and the author was delighted to hear his words read aloud and by the response of the audience, Mr. Auberjonois reported.

“Afterwards he gave me a copy of the book with a very kind and laudatory inscription,” he said.

The author’s act of generosity reinvigorated the Auberjonoises’ passion for the project. They then obtained the rights to several of the author’s works and were on their way, having since put on a few staged versions of “Big Bad Wolfe!”

Mr. Auberjonois, who, with his family, has been a frequent East End renter and visitor, said that the Guild Hall performance will introduce elements—such as sound cues and music—that he has yet to perform anywhere else with this particular piece, which he hopes to eventually bring to fruition as a full theatrical stage story. One thing the one-man show won’t have though will be Mr. Auberjonois fully assuming the identity of Mr. Wolfe on stage.

“It’s not like what Hal Holbrook does with Mark Twain. I’m not going to be dressed up in a white suit,” he explained.

The actor, who is a ubiquitous presence on television and has acted in films as well, gets quite a bit out of working onstage, he said. First, he gets to work with his wife, and second he gets to perform live, in front of an audience—a good reminder to his fans that he’s still around.

“Before you called, Judith was on the phone and she was talking to a man who said, ‘Now that’s a very familiar name, what’s your husband’s name?’ She told him and he replied, ‘He was a very good actor,’” Mr. Auberjonois reported. “Was? What do you mean ‘was?’ he laughed. “I’m still here.”

“Big Bad Wolfe!” The Electric Kool-Aid Kandy-Kolored Right Stuff Man in the Ice-Cream-Suit,” a one-man show by Judith Auberjonois and performed by René Auberjonois, will stage on Friday, June 28, at 8 p.m. at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Tickets range from $30 to $50, with discounts for Guild Hall members. For reservations, visit guildhall.org or theatermania.com, or call the box office at 324-4050.

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