Last night, I saw Dan Hoyle's one-man play, The Real Americans, at the Marsh Theater in the Mission district of San Francisco. It was nothing short of brilliant: unsettling, poignant and hilarious. The Real Americans is based on his three-month journey through America's heartland, with stops in Texas, Alabama, Wisconsin and Chicago, among others.
Here is how Mr. Hoyle describes his intention and the reality of his trip: "I did not expect to make the show I made. I wanted to create a portrait of small-town American heroes with bubble-bursting wit and insight. Instead I ran into the angry populism of the folks whom Sarah Palin famously called "the real Americans." As he expressed so powerfully, instead of debunking his preconceptions and stereotypes of middle America, they were confirmed. He found the racism, ignorance, extremism and fundamentalism that coastal elites decry epidemic in his travels.
That doesn't mean that his target audience, namely, neurotic, Peets-coffee-drinking, Huffington Post-reading, iPhone-connected, organic and locavoristic-eating, too-much-time-on-their-hands San Francisco hipsters, get off easy. His caricature-like (at least to me) portrayals of this group are stunning, causing, I'm sure, much of the audience to say to themselves, that is so not me!
His characterizations of the people he met, from young to old, from white to black to brown, from South to North, were nothing short of inspired. His talents with accents and inflections, body language, cultural commentary, and dramatic and comedic pause are astounding. His insights into the differences between the coasts and the heartland, liberals and conservatives, intellectuals and, um, whatever the opposite of intellectuals is are disturbing and, if accurate and the rule rather than the exception, do not bode well for the future of America given the immense divide between these two cultures.
Yet, for all its cynicism and ominous tone, perhaps the most moving scene in the performance was a conversation in a Chicago diner between a brash, young Latino man and a melancholy older Polish immigrant (both played by Hoyle). Each began their exchange with the preconceived notions and stereotypes you would expect, yet, as the conversation evolved and the two men listened and learned about each other as individuals rather than stereotypes, real communication emerged and, in the end, mutual appreciation for the other. It left me with just a smidgeon of hope for civility, respect and communication across the ideological chasm.
If you are a coastal liberal intellectual elite, you must see Dan Hoyle's The Real Americans. If you are a middle-American conservative, you must see Dan Hoyle's The Real Americans. You will nod in agreement with and laugh in derision at his characters, his words and his judgments (though not at same ones!).