HBO gives up-and-comer Danny Hoch a shot at the wide audience he deserves with its presentation of “Some People,” the intimate Obie Award-winning stage production Hoch presented Off Broadway last fall.
Owing a debt to solo-ers from Lily Tomlin to John Leguizamo, the versatile Hoch proves himself a worthy successor and could easily follow their path to a film career by limning the urban types he presents here. Taped on a New York stage, “Some People” presents Hoch to good advantage in what would seem his natural habitat, without the clutter of any attempts at opening up the stage show.
The eight characters who make up this collection of Hoch’s “people” range from afast-talking Jamaican dise jockey to a Jewish mother whose liberal bent is tested by her son’s social work in the Bronx. With a gift for accents that surpasses even Anna Deavere Smith’s, Hoch bridges humor and humanity in his fine-tuned characterizations.
Typical of Hoch’s approach is his portrayal of Blanca, a young Puerto Rican woman with equal parts sweetness, sass and ignorance. While she worries about her roommate’s health — “He’s gay and he’s skinny” — she rejects her boyfriend’s suggested use of condoms. “You think I’m dirty?” she asks (in a Rosie Perez sound-alike voice).
In moments like that, Hoch isn’t shy about the mixed feelings his characters inspire. Even his most unlikable character — a bigoted New Jersey yuppie whose obnoxious worldview is a tortured amalgam of half-baked insights gleaned from the tube — has a few seconds of tenderness with a friend’s cat. His funniest character, Doris, the Jewish mother, may be the “scared, liberal, complaining reactionary” her son charges, but audiences will be hard-pressed not to feel some empathy with her.
Hoch forgoes the laughs with his most poignant character (and the high point of the hourlong show), Cesar, a middle-aged Hispanic man coping with the recent death of his young son. Here as elsewhere, Hoch transforms broken English into an eloquent expression of internal struggle and frustration.
Director John Fortenberry keeps the focus of the show squarely on the performance, with a healthy dose of unfussy medium-range and close-up shots showcasing Hoch’s attention to detail. Tech credits are of HBO’s usual polished standards.
“Some People” is being presented by HBO as part of its year-long celebration marking two decades of original comedy programming. The cabler was smart to pat its back with someone of Hoch’s promise.