One-person show has a lot to say

August 24, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Danny Hoch -- who portrays a dozen characters of different ages, races and genders in his one-man show, "Some People" -- is so good that occasionally you'd swear he'd physically transformed himself into, say, a young Puerto Rican woman or a Polish plumber.

Sometimes he's even better than that. At those times, you can practically see the invisible characters to whom the Puerto Rican woman or the Polish plumber are talking.

Hoch -- whose show is at the Theatre Project through Saturday -- pulls this off without makeup and with minimal props. Instead, the 23-year-old New Yorker has a remarkably keen ear and eye. And he trains the audience's ear to go with the flow of his characters' speech, even when his black rapper or Rastafarian spew dialogue too fast for us to pick up every word.

How he goes about this is as intriguing as why he does.

"Some People" begins in darkness with Hoch impersonating a West Indian late-night DJ who calls himself the Caribbean Tiger. Though the lights come up slightly, the disembodied voice has ** already forced us to strain to listen. Later, when he portrays a deejay who speaks almost entirely in Spanish -- punctuated by the phrase "Holy moley, guacamole," or an occasional American product name -- it doesn't matter if we don't speak the language, we still get a strong sense of his spirit.

Then there's his sequin-jacketed merengue dancer, who doesn't speak at all. Hoch gives us a window into his personality as well. When the dancer steps out of the spotlight between dances, he drops the broad grin he wears as if he'd removed a mask.

Language -- the lack of it as well as its use and abuse -- is the reason Hoch puts these people on stage together. More than one character an grily assails the intelligence of recent immigrants who haven't mastered our native tongue. Several use profanity-strewn language as a weapon.

Hoch's point -- driven home by the final segment in which a Jamaican man sings about the dangers of thinking in terms of "we and dem" -- is that language can be the bridge to understanding. Judging from this show, it's difficult to disagree.

Hoch has brought "Some People" to the Theatre Project to fine tune it for an opening at New York's Public Theater and filming for HBO. The show, which debuted off-off-Broadway last year, also includes a new character. A Jewish mother -- whose solicitous call to her grown son ends in an argument -- had some rough edges on opening night.

Unlike the Puerto Rican woman, who is Hoch's only other female character, this new woman doesn't seem especially feminine, and it's difficult to get a sense of her age. But such things will probably come with time.

As a solo performance artist who portrays a range of characters, Hoch isn't breaking new ground. But he's carved out his own niche.

For the most part, his work has a gentler feel than that of Eric Bogosian, whose wife, Jo Bonney, directed "Some People." And Hoch's characters are composites; he doesn't go in for the docudrama approach of Anna Deavere Smith, whose most recent show examined the Rodney King riots.

Instead, "Some People" is a piece in which the medium is the message. By the time this 90-minute tour de force is over, you'll be a better listener and maybe, just maybe, a little more tolerant as well.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Some People"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday

Tickets: $14

Call: (410) 752-8558

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