Dan Hoyle brings what have become the stereotypes of the heartland of America to the small square of a stage in the Elizabeth Price Kenan TheatreUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s CEnter for Dramatic Art with a sense of humor, characterization, and poignancy that makes the current PlayMakers Repertory Company PRC2 presentation of The Real Americans a play worthy of comparison with other literary road trips. Like Jack Kerouac in his 1957 novel, On the Road, Hoyle searches for the American truth. Like Odysseus in Homer’s ancient Greek epic poem, The Odyssey, Hoyle finds people who are not who they seem and some who are simply a threat to human existence. And like Odysseus, he returns to his home a changed man from the one he was when he began the trip.
Dan Hoyle’s trek is born of need to explore inner or middle America, and the personas that he adopts through his performance reveal people (mostly white males) who embody the epitome of what others identify as American traits: the drunk football fan in Wisconsin who really cannot “imagine a society with no beer.” He talks about the lack of liquor in Afghanistan, where he has done a tour of service, and states with a flat sarcasm that “I’d start blowing up shit, too.”
Each of Hoyle’s characters reveals something of the American underbelly that is both surprising and discomforting for his audience. Though many of his impersonations — the “country rap” directed at Middle America, the old Texas Christian with more prejudices than opinions, the young Black man with a soft spot for kids and his mother — are amalgamations, they are interesting conglomerates of personalities with opinions that represent the history and philosophy of Americans. Through the process, it appears Hoyle is discovering himself as he faces others and contemplates their differences from himself.
One can judge the story line and comment on the fact that the only females depicted in the play are parodies that are unkind, at best; but the males are even more over-the-top. In creating stereotypes who discuss their own failings and their place in the fabric of the United States, Hoyle reinforces what ultimately makes those characters unlikable from the beginning.
“No one’s looking out for the real Americans like you and me,” an old Kentuckian states, in an accent so thick that his conversation is interpreted on the screen behind him.
Dan Hoyle’s broad sweeps of characterization are not drawn simply for the people he meets throughout his trip across the United States. He introduces his group of uber-California-narcissistic friends in just as unforgiving a manner. His friends are impressed by his bravery, and join his travels vicariously from their San Francisco café table. When he talks to them, he has a chance to reflect on what he’s learned, and realizes he’d gone “looking for tough country wisdom and found small-time anger.”
Toward the peak of the play, Hoyle encounters President Obama in a dream; and they have a conversation designed to boost Hoyle’s morale, as well as to give him a kick in the butt. It is a spot-on impersonation that arouses the audience into another round of laughter.
Hoyle’s trip through contemporary America not only reveals the underbelly, but also shines a light on the diverse politics that run through the veins of the country. Though the show exposes the wide differences between city and country, men and women, Black and White, it also highlights the places where Americans find commonalities: football, war, family.
Hoyle’s examination of what is left of Americana in a country blending at such a rapid pace that racism is no longer the sole property of the rich White man is both subtle and onerous, brilliant and tantalizing, hilarious and thought-provoking. As he states quite eloquently at the end of the play, “ignorance and anger are off the charts, but no one listens to it.”
Though this play has been shown throughout the United States for more than five years, it seems even more relevant during this time of political derision and strife. Echoes of political speeches and recent headlines run rampant through the play and echo long after Dan Hoyle has left the stage. His is a creative work that will retain its importance for many years to come.
SECOND OPINION: April 29th Chapel Hill, NC Chapelboro.com/WCHL interview with playwright/performer Dan Hoyle, conducted by Aaron Keck: http://chapelboro.com/news/arts/playmakers-wraps-up-season-with-real-americans; and April 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/the-real-americans/Event?oid=4803770. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the April 27th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/04/dan-hoyle-encounters-the-angry-populism-of-folks-whom-sarah-palin-dubbed-the-real-americans/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents THE REAL AMERICANS, written and performed by Dan Hoyle, at 7:30 p.m. April 29 and 30 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 1 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSSBwQOkHgE.
PRC NEWS RELEASE: https://playmakersrep.org/press/the-real-americans-completes-playmakers-new-season-lineup/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
Dan Hoyle (Brooklyn , NY actor, playwright, journalist, sports fan, and politico): http://www.danhoyle.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/Dan-Hoyle-116009515104460/ (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/danhoyle (Twitter page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.