Dan Hoyle’s solo show about border crossers is poignant and funny
Better late than never — that’s my newest motto, despite it being an old old-chestnut.
Because I finally got around to catching Dan Hoyle’s solo show, “Border People,” which he’s been doing at The Marsh in San Francisco since Jan. 11.
Hoyle’s been universally praised for the production he wrote and then placed in the masterful hands of director Charlie Varon, a skilled solo performer himself — and now I understand why all those accolades.
It’s due to him sharing 11 mini-monologues that spotlight exquisitely conceived, exquisitely honed characters based on his conversations with immigrants living in black projects in the Bronx, refugees seeking asylum in Canada because it’s easier than dealing with U.S. regulations, and border crossers of all skin tones.
Not a wasted word. Not a wasted motion.
The Oakland actor/playwright readily admits, however, taking liberties in what’s been labeled “journalistic theater.”
Some of the phrases he utters so dramatically, so humorously, aren’t quite verbatim reproductions of his interviews. And some of the characters are composites.
But the show’s unique, even if its most potent message, that immigrants can someday become happy, productive Americans, isn’t.
“Border People” carefully avoids stereotypes as well as Trump-bashing, and individuals meaningfully refer to themselves and others as “illegals” rather than the sanitized, politically collect “undocumented workers.”
It also focuses on more Muslims and African-Americans than the Latinos I might have presumed from the title, particularly reading headline after headline these days about presidentially manufactured border crises.
And no character is separated from his or her children.
Hoyle does, however, inhabit the bodies and souls of a burly, “quite lethal,” 6-foot, 5-inch dude who despite having been reared in an upscale New Jersey suburb feels compelled to pretend he’s a street black; an off-the-grid gay rancher in Arizona with 20 goats who helps border-jumpers sneak into America; a Mexican who appropriates the name Mike Evans because it’s the whitest anyone could conjure up, who recalls repeatedly sneaking under a border fence as a child to alternate between his home in El Paso and his grandmother’s in Mexico, and who’s deported despite having served as a U.S. Marine; a deprived 12-year-old girl who can’t bring herself to spoil a chocolate birthday cake by eating it because it’s too perfect; a young ex-McDonald’s manager picked up by ICE who’s dying because of the HIV virus; and a Latino border patrol agent who stops Hoyle because he suspects he might be smuggling human beings.
In his tour de force 75-minute performance, Hoyle never changes his uniform of black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers — though he does switch characters seamlessly, distinctly through accents and facial/body movements, as rapidly as a top-notch, improvisational jazz musician might change chords.
He also adroitly becomes a tangible 12th character, by having a couple of his creations address “Dan” in their commentaries.
The show —which draws vigorous applause after each segment and a standing ovation at show’s end, and which, after multiple extensions, is now scheduled to close June 22 (unless the run’s extended once again) — is not without effective messages.
Especially when delivered with mischievously dark humor.
As when indicating that everyone can do better than they do now: “If you’re racist,” one character declares, “push up to ignorant.”
Hoyle received rave reviews, including from me, for previous shows such as “Tings Dey Happen” and “The Real Americans,” but this one is better yet.
More mature. More poignant.
And much funnier.
When it finished, my plus-one wife said, “Our kids should see this. In fact, every person in America should see it.”
I nodded agreement — and didn’t think for a second that her sentence was hyperbole.
“Border People” plays at The Marsh, 1062 Valencia St. (at 22nd), San Francisco, through June 22. Performances, 5 p.m. Saturdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.. Tickets: $25 to $100. Information: (415) 282-3055 or www.themarsh.org.