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Tings Dey Happen

Dan Hoyle's solo piece about Nigerian oil politics is undercut by his minstrel-like performance and manic pacing.

By New York City
Dan Hoyle in Tings Dey Happen
(© Lyra Harris)
Dan Hoyle in Tings Dey Happen
(© Lyra Harris)
With eyes bulging, lips puckered out in an exaggerated manner, and speaking in a thickly accented pidgin English, Dan Hoyle comes across like a modern-day minstrel in Tings Dey Happen at The Culture Project. The Caucasian writer/performer probably doesn't intend this, but this often grotesque caricature of the Nigerian people whom Hoyle portrays nevertheless undercuts the effectiveness of his solo piece.

The performance is based on a year that Hoyle spent in Nigeria studying oil politics on a Fulbright scholarship. The author never appears as himself within the play, instead taking on a succession of characters whom he met. He also portrays Sylvanus, a stage manager/narrator who enables Hoyle to comment upon both Nigeria and his own performance.

To his credit, Hoyle includes a wide range of perspectives from oil workers to politicians to prostitutes to militants. On the downside, the inclusion of so many characters makes it difficult to keep track of who's who, and more importantly where they all fit in the scheme of things. One of the reasons Hoyle has exaggerated his mannerisms to such a high degree is probably just to make sure that the people he's enacting are as distinct as possible from one another. He even takes a broad approach to his non-African characters, such as a Texan and several drunken Scots, who make repeat appearances in his narrative.

His most fully realized creation is a 23-year-old sniper named Okosi, who dreams of a better life, but is forced to accept that he'll never achieve it. Hoyle is also more subdued as Okosi, distinguishing him by means of a squint and facial tic, yet maintaining a grounded presence.

Despite the subject matter, there is humor within the script, even if not all of the jokes land. In particular, Hoyle uses Sylvanus as a kind of clown character who interrupts the action when things get too heavy by saying things like "You know I tell Dan, when people come to see a show about Africa, they want to bright colors, fine dancing, wonderful music. It's not just killing, kidnapping, prostitution, hey!"

Director and co-developer Charlie Varon needs to rein in Hoyle's excesses. The pacing is so manic, and Hoyle's energy level so high, that the piece only rarely allows the audience a chance to simply absorb the information that is being doled out. This wouldn't be so bad if Hoyle's purpose was solely to entertain, but since he's trying to describe a very complex political and social structure within Nigeria, it would be prudent to slow down and make sure his audience stays with him.


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