The audience last night at Danny Hoch’s second performance was only about three-quarters full, but there was a feeling of solidarity among those of us inside the Emmett Robinson Theatre: we wanted to be there, dammit, and we knew perfectly well what we were going to see – or maybe we didn’t know exactly, but at least we were determined to not be surprised or offended by anything we saw.
Hoch entered dressed in a grey logo-less T-shirt, sweatpants, and sneakers. He walked directly to a podium at stage left, and began reading: “This is a public service announcement! Hip-hop is not rap, motherfucker!”
The fevered rant that followed was Hoch’s “P.S.A.” From HBO’s Def Poetry, a wild tour through the space between rap and hip-hop culture wherein pauses were rare and indictments of rap, its creators and the marketplace vultures who feed on it were most common. “P.S.A.” set the scene, as it were, for a Spoleto performance that was part acting masterclass and part political jeremiad. Rarely, I think, have so many effenheimers been dropped in a single Spoleto Festival performance.
Hoch’s characterizations of ordinary human beings were breathtaking: A teenaged white Minnesota boy in his bedroom admiring his gangsta style in the mirror while conducting an imaginary interview with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show amid periodic shouted exchanges with his mother downstairs, urging him to get ready for a shift at Hardees; a Cuban street musician who encounters an American tourist; a self-aggrandizing rap star named MC Enuf basking in vanity on the The Late Show With David Letterman; and most poignantly, a 19-year-old speech therapy patient – his mother had been a crack addict – who gave a tortured going-away speech for his therapist. If there was a dry eye in the house after that one, they weren’t sitting near me.
Hoch read more essay-style works between characterizations, though it did occur to me to wonder why he hadn’t bothered, or chosen, to memorize them. None was too long for a competent actor to memorize, and he’s surely read them out loud hundreds of times by this point – and in looking up and down from the manuscript, he lost a crucial sense of connection with the audience at the Emmett Robinson.
Hoch finished with a 10-minute political rant, which many in the audience – even those of us who fully agreed with his far-leftist political leanings – seemed to find slightly slightly self-indulgent and out of place. But these are quibbles. Don’t be surprised to see this blogger decked out in full hip-hop regalia next time you see him (for the record, that’s sweats, kicks and a T, not bling and a diamond grill).