The People in My Hips
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 17, 2009
The People in My Hips, written and performed by Ken Wolf, is unlike any theatre piece I've ever seen before.
I feel like I've been saying that a lot lately; the indie theater scene in New York seems more inventive and vibrant than it even usually is these days—a very good thing. But The People in My Hips stands out among the fare I've encountered recently. It's the kind of show that makes me want to put an adverb in front of the word unique—but I won't attempt to modify the unmodifiable.
Playwright-actor-director Wolf attempts something just as impossibly zenlike in this one-man play of his: to revisit the unrevisitable. The People in My Hips is an autobiographical work about events that happened to Wolf within the past seven years. One day, at a yoga class, Wolf suddenly started to experience excruciating pain in his hips. Eventually he came to understand that this pain was a manifestation of energy related to abusive events from his past. Wolf ultimately identified the "people" in his hips as "Little Ken"—himself as a young boy—and the "Dark Man"—some unknown evil presence who had apparently hurt Little Ken decades before. Through a lot of painful exercise and therapy, Wolf was able to exorcise these personal demons, and the pain, he tells us, is now gone.
Except that he warns us, before the show proper starts, that he fears that this very performance may trigger their reappearance. And as we witness the wrenching re-enactment of illness and recovery that Wolf has structured for us in this play, we believe that such a re-emergence could very well occur...may, in fact, be occurring before our eyes.
The play itself is a narrative of the history of Wolf's "people in hips" illness. It's shaped chronologically, with Wolf telling us the story and also commenting on it; he also shows us some videos that he made during the course of these past seven years, which he sometimes interacts with and more often seems eager to be out of the way of. Wolf also, on prerecorded audio, portrays various individuals who attempted to help him find a cure (which, for traditional psychotherapy, would mean unlocking the repressed memories of what "Dark Man" actually did to "Little Ken").
The main theme of the play is to reject that traditional treatment and to embrace the healing powers that each of us innately possesses. The climax of the piece comes with a yoga-fed acceptance of the past rather than a dramatic whodunit-style revelation. Catharsis is nevertheless achieved.
It's hard to tell where Wolf the actor-playwright ends and Wolf the still-evolving-and-healing-human begins, which may itself be a testament to Wolf's performance prowess. The show is consistently compelling and a lot funnier than I'm sure I've made it sound. It's involving and maybe even harrowing in places, but at the end of the journey we feel lifted up. Wolf cautions in the program that The People in My Hips is a play and not a seminar, but there is certainly advice offered here that audience members can choose to accept or reject. "The seminars will begin after I get on Oprah," Wolf adds in his note. The determination it took to make this play may well land him on TV.