In the spring of 2020, as the COVID epidemic was taking hold and the Black Lives Matter movement was being birthed in blood, Dan Hoyle was one of many theatre artists reflecting on the future of our theatrical communities. Much of this reflection was inspired by “The Living Document of BIPOC Experience In Bay Area Theatre Companies.” This important project was conceived by Ely Sonny and has provoked intense discussion in the theatre community. Many companies have responded in various ways, and an analysis of the impact of these responses is something to be addressed in other articles. (BIPOC, of course, refers to members of the community identifying as Black, Indiginous or People of Color.)
The subject comes up here because these discussions were the occasion for Dan Hoyle, a white performer who specializes in multi-character one man shows, to develop “Talk To Your People,” which opened last weekend at The Marsh in San Francisco. Hoyle wondered how he, as a concerned theatre artist not himself part of the BIPOC community, might engage with the issues related to race, privilege, masculinity, and power which had become so much a part of the public discussion as a result of the rise of Black Lives Matter and other events. A Black colleague suggested that perhaps he could consider a show whose characters were white, middle class people like Hoyle himself. “Go talk to YOUR people,” was the advice.
Hoyle has taken the advice to heart and now presents “Talk To Your People,” a one man show consisting of a series of monologues in the voice of characters not unlike Hoyle: white, middle class, 40-something men trying to make sense of what it might mean to be “woke.”
At this sort of performance, Hoyle is never anything short of vibrantly entertaining. To see him immersed in characters with wildly different attitudes and mannerisms, one after another, is nothing short of magical. He is physically graceful and vocally acrobatic, never muddy, always perfectly clear. We know who is talking, and we know what it is they are trying to say. His characters range from an academic concerned with the effects both of cancel culture and the rise of the alt right among university students to a successful salesman disgusted by his clientele in the online games industry who says, “I don’t want to be the big bad white guy any more, but I need to earn like him.” Another character is a jazz musician who has spent his life in Black communities, but now finds that he is being judged by newly woke whites who have no experience of Black friends but have read all the right books.
All of these characters have something to say. Here are some interesting examples:
“The gap between performed selves and actual selves is where bullshit is fostered.”
“Are the side doors to the big building of solidarity closing?”
And my favorite: “This country is finally coming to grips with its childhood traumas.”
All of these interesting people with their articulate commentaries make for a good evening of theatre.
Still, I have to wonder whether a one man show is the best format to explore these issues. Wouldn’t the discussion be better served if there were characters actually interacting with one another, where we could experience some of the emotional firestorms that so many of us have experienced in real life these past few years?
Dealing with these issues in a series of monologues seems to me a strangely distancing and abstract way to confront such emotional content.
Of course, this form of play is Dan Hoyle’s bread-and-butter, and he deserves to be celebrated for making an effort, within the confines of his expertise, to respond to the times.
Whatever its flaws, “Talk To Your People” is certainly an expertly presented evening of theatre, which will surely capture your interest, entertain you, and give you plenty to think about.
“Talk To Your People” plays at The Marsh in San Francisco through April 16, 2022. For further information and tickets, click here
Rating: *** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Talk To Your People,” a word premiere written and performed by Dan Hoyle. Produced by The Marsh, San Francisco. Developed With and Directed by Charlie Varon.