Saturday, January 23, 2010

"The Real Americans"

Wonderfully surprised last night by a new show in previews at The Marsh in San Francisco. "The Real Americans" is the story of writer/actor Dan Hoyle's attempt to bridge a connection between secular humanist intellectuals like himself (and me, for that matter) and the flyover country where millions of Americans still believe Obama is a Muslim, the Earth was created in six 24-hour days, and the reason we can't support health care reform is because all the money to pay for it already went to illegal aliens.

Hoyle spent over three months on the road, visiting Texas, Alabama, Kansas and other parts of the heartland, listening to disaffected, angry (but usually sincere) Americans talk about the political divide in this country from their point of view. He then portrays these people with real honesty and skill. He must do at least two-three dozen different characters, making their voices and mannerisms distinct -- as well as funny, touching and real. Dan succeeds at delivering what I feel is the basis for all good theater: truth. I don't know if he recorded his conversations, or if he just has incredible recall, but the voices all seem genuine and true-to-life.

He also skewers his hipster intellectual friends (and himself), which adds to the genuineness of this piece. He looks honestly at both sides of the divide. (The socially/politically-correct dialogue he gives to these characters is some of the funniest stuff in the show.)

A couple of notes to Dan and director Charlie Varon:

- When you project dialogue on the upstage wall so that we can understand what a character with a deep accent is saying, either do a literal, word-for-word transcription, even if it's not gramatically correct or always easy to understand, or do a full hillbilly-to-English translation and make it funny that way. The in-between way you did it last night just didn't work. Same thing with the projections of the words of the last song Dan did: I imagine things are still in flux since you are in previews, but the projections should match exactly what Dan is singing.

- While we're on the subject of music...Dan can't rap. Sorry to be so blunt with it, but the opening white guy rap is so the polar opposite of Eminem that it fails to rise even to the level of Vanilla Ice. Either change the rap so that it's clear that he is mocking his lack of hip-hop cred, or cut it entirely. As it is, it's a giant rotten egg at the top of the show.

- Dan's second song isn't much either. But by the time he gets to numbers three and four, he's found his rhythm. Fix the first two or cut them.

Other than that, I'm a big fan of this show, in part because I totally identify with Dan's motivations. I, too, want to be an evangelist for reason and logic and science. I, too, respect the service of those who go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I can appreciate the desire for a little "tough country wisdom." But I'm glad it was Dan who went out and did all those interviews with all those people holding on so tightly to their ignorance; I don't think I could have been as patient.

If you live in the Bay Area, make the effort to get to The Marsh and see this terrific little show. (I also suggest Range for dinner either before or after the show.)


Liam said...

It seemed to me that Dan's rap was delivered with an over-the-top corny whiteboy rhythm on purpose. I loved it.

Tom said...

I think you're right in that he was trying for a corny whiteboy rhythm, but he needs to take it even farther over the top for it to work for me. That said, I still think the show is great and deserves a wide audience.