Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop

In this solo show, New York monologuist Danny Hoch recalls an ill-fated flirtation with mass-media fame–a guest shot on Seinfeld that fell through because he refused to deliver a stereotyped Spanish accent. “They didn’t want the real thing,” he says of the sitcom’s creative team. “They wanted somebody that could do the real thing but still be one of them.” Hoch may not always be “the real thing”–his cross-racial impersonations are controversial in some quarters. But his extraordinary ear for accents and dialects, tuned while growing up in a polyglot Queens neighborhood, is more than a commercial gimmick. As much anthropologist as actor, the 28-year-old Hoch is committed to a truth-based theater whose underlying theme is the American soul and the changing language that both expresses and shapes it. The white-bread catchphrase “Whaddaya think of them apples?” is as intriguing to him as the raw rhymes and relentless rhythms of rap; his sketches explore the evolutionary and revolutionary processes by which disparate styles of speech mingle in the modern linguistic marketplace. Here his diverse characters include a disabled Puerto Rican trying to pick up a Czech woman at a Bronx hospital; a New York corrections officer undergoing much-needed stress evaluation; a Cuban street peddler clamoring for tourists’ attention by playing the claves; a jailed addict with AIDS; a rap star in baseball cap and Versace sunglasses making his debut on Letterman; and a white Montana teenager fantasizing about being a gangsta celebrity, practicing his rap verse (“Vanilla Ice, he could suck my fuckin’ dick / That fool Bryant Gumbel makes me fuckin’ sick”) in between shouted conversations with his mother (“I took the bottles to the store already!”). Premiered in 1997 at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre and performed last year at New York’s Performance Space 122, Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop showcases Hoch’s gift for mimicry, unsurpassed by such stars as John Leguizamo, Whoopi Goldberg, Tracy Ullman, Lily Tomlin, and Eric Bogosian (whose wife and collaborator, Jo Bonney, directed Hoch’s show). This touring production brings Hoch to Chicago for the first time since 1995, when he made his local debut with Some People at the old Organic Theater. Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. Opens Thursday, April 15, 8 PM. Through May 2: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. $10-$20.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Paula Court.