Talk to Your People
Celebrated creator and performer of solo shows about such topics as Nigerian oil scandals (Tings Dey Happen), Red States folks telling their side of the story (The Real Americans), and heart-wrenching yet funny portrayals of men and women from minority races and cultures (The Border People), Oakland resident Dan Hoyle – much like most of us – found himself confined at home for many COVID months. Early on in that collective quarantine period, George Floyd’s brutal death and increasing acts of police violence against Blacks shook the entire world and led to global protests to declare “Black Lives Matter.” On the suggestion of a good friend, Dan Hoyle decided to take to the Bay Area beaches and parks to seek out as part of his self-named “journalism of hanging out” one demographic group he had never pursued: Liberal, white dudes like himself. His mission was to see how they were reacting to the recent occurrences and the natural entitlement that their race and gender bestowed on them.
In a world premiere at his theatrical home base, San Francisco’s The Marsh, Dan Hoyle presents Talk to Your People, a seventy-minute collage of mostly white men – like Dan, not too young, not too old – as they aimlessly ramble, penetratingly probe, and openly confess their views, their fears, and their guilt in light of the current state of our world. The result is an always entertaining, often intriguing, and occasionally insightful look at a group of guys who in the end are overall indistinguishable from each other in their self-admitted world of white, liberal privilege.
Against a ongoing, video backdrop of mostly Oakland scenes and people (often delightful children), our first dude ambles out in front of a beach backdrop in only his swim trunks and sunglasses with beer in hand. Ethan is a twenty-year-ago transplant from the redwood-surrounding, remote Humboldt, California who “wants to do social justice” but does not know “any organizations who are hiring white guys to do that.” Amidst nervous chuckles and a lot of “Oh shit’s,” he describes himself as a “soul of an activist trapped inside the body of an asshole.” One gets the feeling when Ethan looks himself in the mirror, he may admit he should be doing more to mend the world around him, but he finds himself in a white-guy, Bay Area cost-of-living conundrum: “I don’t want to be the big, bad white guy; but I still need to earn a living like one.”
Under the astute and well-timed direction of his co-developer, Charlie Varon, Dan Hoyle quickly transitions between scenes his dress and personalities as the months of the epidemic tick by. The favorite attire of most of his subjects – not surprisingly to any of us who lived through those months – is some form of hoody and loose-fitting, comfy pants. Universally familiar to both us as audience and the men we meet is their new, daily abode: online via FaceBook, FaceTime, Instagram, and certainly via Zoom. As one guys bemoans, “We’re sharing everything and nothing at the same time.” He goes on to describe a state of mind where many of these guys seem to be as the headlines of injustices bombard them every day on social media: “I’m paralyzed by sympathy.”
Dan Hoyle’s proven and incredibly amazing skill through the years is to employ numerous ways of positioning his eyebrows, eyes, mouth, posture, and voice to transform himself into characters totally different from each other. In Talk to Your People, he once again does his best through variances of gestures, voice, and stance to distinguish the ten or so different men we meet; but in this case, that task becomes much more difficult. In the end, these guys look and act a lot alike. To a person, they seem stuck in what to do and how to pull themselves out of the world of the computer/IPhone screen and into one of doing something that really matters to make a difference.
Kim asks (in his high, squeaky, singing voice), “Do I post a photo [on Instragram] with my one black friend?” Darren sings at the keyboard, “On behalf of entitled white men, I just want to say ‘I’m sorry” – doing so while a disco ball sends the room into an hilarious array of floating dots of color. Over and again, these men bemoan a world where “now there’s no difference between online and real life.” As a guy from West Marin asks in final frustration of his time with us, “Is anyone really happy how we are communicating now?”
Try as he diligently does in scene after scene and even though he masterfully captivates us as an audience and often makes us laugh in recognition of ourselves or those we know, Dan Hoyle’s Talk to Your People does not leave us with many answers to “so what” and “now what” after he has helped us to see the “what.” The “what” is the current state of this look-alike sampling of Bay Area white, male liberals who face a world where discrimination, injustice, and economic hardship are affecting many others not like them. One last guy in dark granny glasses and flip flops does leave us with a gently presented, soft-spoken question, “Are we ready to live a little more here?” (pointing to his heart) while further inquiring, “Can we do it together?” While a feel-good conclusion to the evening’s parade of very nice, mostly low-key dudes, it is hard to see him or many/any of the others really moving too far out of their comfort zones and occasional guilt trips to make much of a difference in the world.
And maybe that is exactly the rather sad but predictable conclusion Dan Hoyle’s Talk to Your People is meant to leave with us. For once, we should not be looking to white men – even liberal ones – for the much-needed changes that our increasingly diverse world is demanding.
Rating: 3.5 E
Talk to Your People continues 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and 5 p.m. Saturdays through April 16, 2022 (no performances March 24-26) on the Main Stage at The Marsh, San Francisco, 1062 Valencia Street. Tickets are available online at https://themarsh.org .
Photos credit: Peter Prato