James Bolt Leaves No Time for Idle Minds

Los Angeles Times
By Scott Collins
Special to the Times

In his fascinating new show "You Are Here," James Bolt is a poet, preacher, grunge rocker and children's TV host all rolled into one. Bolt is, broadly speaking, a performance artist. But there are few performers anywhere who can match his creativity, range and energy. If you don't like what he's doing one moment, don't worry. Soon he'll be doing something else.

According to the press materials, Bolt has performed at rock concerts and on MTV. He could easily be confused with an alternative music hero, with his shoulder-length hair, matchstick-thin build and protean features.

Yet this is no idle amusement for the "Beavis and Butt-head" set. "You Are Here" is a series of monologues and songs designed to jolt viewers out of their complacency about... well, about everything. Even at their most hippy-dippy, Bolt's musings are never dull.

Bolt has designed his own cosmology with seven different levels or "magnitudes": Cosmic & Creation, Mechanical & Nation, Subatomic & Self, etc. He moves from the universal to the personal, all the while stressing, like some soulful New Age guru, the interconectedness of everything.

In a bit called "Attracted and Repelled," he sways back and forth on a playground swing while delivering toungue-in-cheek free verse on the dynamics of love. "How Am I Driving," meanwhile spins a bumper-sticker cliche into a mesmerizing riff on the spiritual isolation of ever-commuting Angelenos.

Sometimes, Bolt seems to think more with his heart than his head. "Golden Age," a meditation on utopia, is performed and staged with quasi-religious fervor, although its point is not readily apparent. He can also lapse into preachiness; such as when he delivers a civics lecture on the importance of voting.

Yet Bolt's great strength is his willingness to approach the world with childlike wonder and innocence. Designer Dan Weingarten has shrewdly underscored that approach with a set that resembles a playground, complete with a swing, a seesaw and a painted tire.

Director Wendy Robbins has made the most of a remarkably clean and comfortable space at the Venue, a stage in the warehouse district of Lincoln Heights. Above all, she has insisted on superior technical and design support. One key element is the series of slide projections from Robert Katz, who adroitly uses generic images --- coastlines, skylines, etc. --- to create a unique sense of space.

Backing Bolt is a two-piece band --- Jo Shotwell on drums and percussion and Yogi on electric guitar --- whose shimmering style recalls the ambient music of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. At once minimalist and evocative, the music is the perfect complement to Bolt, who is an idealist in the best sense of the term.

"You Are Here," The Venue, 600 Moulton Ave., Lincoln Heights. Fridays-Saturdays, * p.m. Ends March 25. $15 - $17.50  (213) 221-5894. Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.