Dan Hoyle’s “Border People” at The Marsh

Dan Hoyle’s “Border People” at the Marsh

Carol Benet

Extended for the second time after two sold-out runs, Dan Hoyle’s “Border People” at the Marsh in San Francisco is a wonder.  Based on his live interviews with people from Mexico to Canada as well as the Bronx, Hoyle impersonates these people.  Two of them only speak  Spanish but there is a translation handed out and with supertitles on the stage.

Hoyle is a genius at the genre often called documentary or verbatim theater based on live interviews that expose a certain subject.  It owes much to Anna Deveare Smith who developed the style. At the Marsh it is Hoyle’s director and co-developer Charlie Varon who, like Hoyle, is a master of the style. Hoyle, plays himself is as well as the interviewees, all considered “border people”.

The show starts with a monologue by a black  juice push-cart vendor in the projects in South Bronx.  His own story is complex and surprising.  He grew up in a wealthy community in New Jersey as one of only 5 black families in town, and now finds himself in this menial job.

He did the American thing, was nationally ranked as a chess player and was in every way, a regular American.  He wears a sweater vest and khakis, was in the navy, but because he is 6 foot five and 220 pounds and black, people, and especially the police, only see him as a dangerous character.  The moral of the story is that we see each other just on the exterior without regard to the real story.

The second interview is with a Saudi Arabian worker at Tim Horton’s so you know he is in Canada,  home to this popular chain. His story is about his escape from his home country because he, in a well-paying job ($10,000 a month), was not religious enough for what he calls the Islamic police.  He was forced to seek asylum and flee his own country. After going to  California, and when Trump trying to rid America of Muslims, he fled north to Canada for safety via Buffalo.  He was there and waiting, after two years, for his court case to come up.  He remarks on the irony that he was not Muslim enough in Saudi Arabia but too Muslim for here.

The third is about Mike Evans who was born on the border in Juarez but climbed over the fence back and forth daily to El Paso to be with his relatives.  Then his mother took him all around America with her job working for an American professor lady who, after his mother’s suicide, adopted him  Afterwards he was in and out of trouble, joined the Marines, changed his name to the most American of names of Mike Evans from a t.v. program, did drugs, was caught, came clean and illegal activity again so he was imprisoned  for five years.  There all he did was work-out and during the interview with Dan he is constantly performing these exercise.  When he was released from prison he was deported because he he was born in Juarez.  He said he thought he was an American because he had a permanent resident card.  He wonders,” what is permanent about that?”

Some of the episodes show Hoyle’s genius in creating a character through talking about small  items in a specific situation.  He interviews a young girl at  Applebees restaurant where she was  celebrating her birthday with her mother.  She is very shy and incredulous when the piece of chocolate cheesecake arrives about which she has all sorts of doubts.  She wants to send it back:  it  is too expensive, too perfect, she doesn’t deserve it, etc.  She is completely perplexed about her own lack of self-worth in accepting such a gift.  But her story is nuanced  by the fact that her mother was a doctor in Ghana and this surprising qualification places the girl in a higher class than first  expected.

Next is a man in a self-built hut (140 sq. feet)  living with goats and chickens because he wants to be depend on himself.  He fears that the world is facing an environmental crisis and mentions  1200 A.D when civilization collapsed due to drought and famine.  The fact that he’s gay sets him apart from his red neck neighbors from whom he hides he fact that he helps illegals survive crossing the desert.  He explains that he too was red-necky but was kicked out of his family aawhen his parents found out he was gay.

And on the stories go.  These are not the abbreviated stories we read in the papers or see on television about  the plight of the illegals, but in-depth character studies with people who defy the stereotype.    There is a teenager who hangs outs in a pick-up truck with friends after the prom in wealthy Buck’s County where  he never fit in.  There is the man who was constantly dodging bullets in Kabal, an illegal dying of A.I.D.s  and a black man peacefully enjoying a barbecue on the Fourth of July in  the Bronx project where he lives when he is hassled by the police because he is black.  Then there is Dan in the the driver’s seat when a cop picks him up for speeding in Arizona. The cop describes that his  job is to pick up the illegals crossing the desert and about his own self-doubts about “how to draw the line on these cases”.

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Hoyle has made a composite of the many interviews he carried on to create the stories of these singular characters.  The tales are riveting and the intermissionless 70 minute show whizzes by with the audience wishing for more.  He has toured the country with his previous shows and has taught this one-man show technique  at Trinity College Dublin and at Columbia University.  Dan Hoyle is a master at the craft and thanks to this extension at The Marsh in San Francisco until August 30, 2019, more people will be able to attend this constantly  sold-out production.

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About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →