31 July 2007

Tings Dey Happen, by Bodi

My old college roommate is on his way, and I find his ascent is sort of extraordinary.

To make a long story short, a great friend from the halcyon days of schoolyard adulthood wrote a one-man play after spending 2005 in the Niger Delta as a Fullbright scholar, and that play is making waves.

(Goings on About Town, The New Yorker, July 30, 2007)

The above snippet may digest what the San Francisco native tackles, but it's not in the business of editorializing or offering any real insight as to what Dan achieves with his play.

Tings Dey Happen is Hoyle's first true masterwork, a daring exploration which Robin Williams likened to something of a surrealist, oil-fueled Heart of Darkness in January '07, a month or so after the show commenced a highly praised - and sold out - run at San Francisco's Marsh Theater.

Dan occupies a genre of theater he dreamed up in Spain and began to hone at 1619 Ridge Ave, Apartment E3 as a Performance Studies and History major at Northwestern. In all of his works, Hoyle's approach begins and ends as an embedded journalist, an observant fly-on-the-wall presence who, in turn, weaves theater into the current cultural predicaments with whch he's had direct encounters, a very brazen marriage of politics/journalism/media/entertainment that would be difficult to swallow if Hoyle's storytelling and craft weren't so undeniable and forward-thinking.

We never hear from Dan himself in Tings, yet the entire piece vividly careens through what only he could have seen. Vignettes are laced together through a series of exquisitely transitioned characters and experiences, seamlessly navigating an oft-comedic whirlwind of Hoyle's exposure to the warlords, grifters, UN officials, oil men, Texas bluesmen, and malaria of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. A physical actor to the core, Hoyle shows as much of a gift for non-verbal nuance and pantomimery as he does for storytelling and character impersonation; the two might sort of have to go hand-in-hand, perhaps, but here Dan fortifies his grasp with four star general musketry.

While irretrievably hilarious throughout, the air of weariness/imminent danger evoked by the world Dan inhabits wrangles us further into the factions of Port Harcourt and the greater Niger Delta. This is, perhaps, the work's greatest gift. We are taken to an improbable place (Dan chose this path), whether or not we like it, to look for answers, almost naively, among people and environs veteran ballpark vendors don't typically choose to face firsthand. Like Dan, we're a part of the underworld willfully, but without a trifle of a sense as to why once we arrive. As a viewer, the experience of watching the episodes unfold is as thrilling as it is unnerving.

Dan built an early following by imitating people like Felix, Diego, Sammy Sosa, an old man at Thanksgiving, and Caitlin's roommate, not an insignificant cast of characters by any account. Here, we see that the old fellow has leveraged those foundations to expand what was already a considerable repertoire. His mastery of warri pidgin English, for example, is jaw-dropping. "Oyibo."

It really is an exceptional piece of work.

(Hoyle inspects Rive Gauche hieroglyphics in the wee hours,
Paris 2000)

Tings Dey Happen made its New York debut July 26 at SoHo's Culture Project, where it will run through September 23.

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The Times review.

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