We all know San Francisco is a bubble floating apart from the rest of the U.S. We have our own version of universal health coverage, and we voted for gay marriage. Though we've read about them in The New York Times, we’ve never rubbed elbows with “Birthers” (who contend President Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.), Tea Party members or those whom Sarah Palin called "real Americans." The truth is, we're chicken to meet them. But we can, in the Marsh theater's The Real Americans, and the hit show proves that we ought to. It's at the Marsh Berkeley for what's billed as its last Bay Area run, from March 8-April 6, 2013.
Actor and writer Dan Hoyle re-enacts how the idea of connecting with Palin’s brand of “real Americans” surfaced among him and his organic-soy-latte-sipping pals. They invited him to be the advance party: Hit the road, venture far beyond our Bubble by the Bay, and meet Americans over coffee and apple pie. Then return home and tell us all about it.
He does, in a 90-minute, one-act play so smart, hilarious, complex, empathetic and eye-opening that it kept getting extended from 2010 to 2012.
With a Ford camper van, T-shirts showing the U.S. flag and polite openness, Hoyle traveled the South, Appalachia and Midwest for 100 days in 2009. In his show, we witness him spending July 4 in Texas with three generations of a Creationist and military family, meeting an anti-war gun-show dealer, taking to calling bar waitresses “sweetheart.” He swigs Alabama moonshine with a white segregationist senior citizen. The elderly man’s black caregiver tells Hoyle matter-of-factly that racism trickles down the generations of an old Southern white family just as a penchant for foreign films might in an artistic family like his. (Hoyle’s father is clown extraordinaire Geoff Hoyle). Hoyle hears more than once that “Obama is Muslim” and the president’s health care plan is “socialized medicine.”
Hoyle worries about a teen-ager who's about to be deployed to Iraq, realizing he couldn’t do what the 19-year-old will have to. He wonders why Southern Democrats aren’t Democrats. Real Americans are honest and generous, cook him dinner and pray for him--how can he dislike them?
Vast swathes of the U.S. are withered, Hoyle finds. He can’t bond with people over pie because few roadside coffee shops still exist; instead, there are just lonely gas stations with pre-packaged junk food. Residents of America’s heartland are disgruntled and trapped, and it seems the situation will only get worse. The ever-ingenious Hoyle dreams up solutions--a “secular humanism road show,” or a ditty promoting logic, reason and science, perhaps? We in the audience laugh. But maybe his solutions aren’t so outlandish.
Hoyle is a master impersonator. Using only his voice, mime, body language and slight movements, he morphs into more than a dozen different characters--everyone from an eco-extremist SF hipster trying to “de-consume” to a wheelchair-bound codger to a tight-jawed vet who counsels young soldiers returning from Iraq. His exchange with a Midwestern auto mechanic and his confessional to Obama atop his van are particularly funny.
Hoyle has a knack for getting people to open up, and he listens closely. Like Studs Terkel and Charles Kuralt, he has probed an America that we know little about and understand less. He’s spared us a journey (which we were reluctant to take), so at least you can go to Berkeley to meet the Americans he’s brought back.
THE REAL AMERICANS
Dates: March 8-April 6, 2013, on Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 5 pm
Place: The Marsh Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way, Berkeley 94704