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Dan Hoyle's Border People Is a Compelling Look at Forgotten People

Hoyle presents a new solo show made up of stories that don't often get told.

Dan Hoyle in his solo show Border People.
(© Carol Rosegg)

Jarrett is a six-foot-five black man from the projects in the South Bronx. He's a Korean martial arts expert, ex-navy. He runs a juice cart, dresses business casual. He doesn't look or sound like all the other guys from his neighborhood. Mike is a minor celebrity in Ciudad Juárez: a popular DJ who works out a lot. They call him the Mexican-American version of the Situation from Jersey Shore. Gareth is a gay pagan goat rancher in Arizona who, unlike any other farmer you'd find in that part of the country, actually believes in helping "the illegals" who cross his land. Noe is dying of HIV in his native Mexico. He wanted to be an actor, but turned to drugs after his partner died.

These men and their stories have very little in common, except one thing: They're all played by a gifted actor and writer named Dan Hoyle, and are the common thread of Border People. Jarrett and Mike and Gareth and Noe and several others, including Ghanaian-Dominican Tiffany and Latino border patrol agent Lopez, are all characters in Hoyle's fiendishly compelling solo show Border People, a production of Working Theater that comes to A.R.T./New York Theatre after a 10-month sell-out run in the Bay Area.

Border People is the latest entry into the canon of docu-theater projects about relevant social issues. Like in Anna Deavere Smith's recently revived Fires in the Mirror before it, Hoyle plays all of his subjects, delivering their words mostly verbatim and adopting their physical characteristics and speech patterns for a more fully rounded presentation. While the thesis is a little less defined than past works of this ilk, the show remains profound. Hoyle is an irresistibly watchable performer, and the material is a sobering examination of life in Trump's America.

For these purposes, Hoyle's definition of "border" is not limited to the geographic definition of the word. One story finds a Honduran immigrant escaping from gang violence deported to Mexico after getting caught crossing into the States. But for Jarrett, the border is cultural. Middle class, he describes himself as the "black Rick Santorum," but to balance it out, he wears Jordans or LeBrons, "the cufflinks of the ghetto. To show the gangsters I'm literate in street hieroglyphics." For Hani, it's racial: "In Saudi Arabia, they are chasing me because I not enough Muslim. Now I'm running from US because I too much Muslim."

These are stories that don't often get told in theater — and Hoyle presents them in an honest, reliable way that doesn't sugarcoat the hardships or play for tears. In a black T-shirt and skinny jeans, he's the definition of a chameleon, his facial expressions, vocal tones, and body language morphing from scene to scene as he introduces each person. I've seen a lot of solo performers working with similar methodology, yet this is the first time I've ever truly forgotten that I was watching one man.

It's a true testament to Hoyle's remarkable talents as an artist, and the skills of his chosen collaborators, original director Charlie Varon and off-Broadway director Nicole A. Watson, that Border People is the most engaging evening I've spent in the theater in a long time. This is a show that anyone who considers themselves a well-informed citizen should see.

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