Evolution of a Homeboy: Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop

Human jukebox --- maybe that's beatbox --- Danny Hoch adds a few more characters to his ongoing urban landscape in this follow-up to 1994's "Some People." Though parts might benefit from further development before a planned NYC run at the Joseph Papp Public Theater next year, "Evolution of a Homeboy" should bolster Hoch's status as one of the few rising stars in an otherwise enervated solo-performance field.

Human jukebox — maybe that’s beatbox — Danny Hoch adds a few more characters to his ongoing urban landscape in this follow-up to 1994’s “Some People.” Though parts might benefit from further development before a planned NYC run at the Joseph Papp Public Theater next year, “Evolution of a Homeboy” should bolster Hoch’s status as one of the few rising stars in an otherwise enervated solo-performance field.

Like the widely toured (and HBO-taped) “Some People,” “Evolution” puts the 26 -year-old writer-actor through a gallery of short, self-contained sketches. But while technically dazzling, “People” occasionally seemed likemulticultural tourism. “Evolution” wisely undercuts such criticism — and deepens its own resonance — by musing directly on the mainstreaming of inner-city “style” at a time when core communities are worse off than ever.

Among those in Hoch’s spotlight: a wealthy rap star on “Letterman” and a white Montana teen who postures in front of the mirror, telling an imaginary Jay Leno that he’s got “the ghetto in my soul.”

Hoch even “plays” himself, reading an account of his being hired for a “Seinfeld” episode, then fired when his protestations of stereotyping (he’s cast as a “crazy Hispanic pool cleaner”) ruffled feathers.

Other characters include a white prison guard whose domestic frustrations are spilling into his job performance, or vice versa; an AIDS-diagnosed ex-junkie Vietnam vet who finds prison more congenial than minimum wage at McDonald’s; a Cuban street musician chatting up a U.S. tourist; and a Puerto Rican guy flirting sweetly as he awaits physical therapy required since being shot by police.

A couple of episodes — notably one involving the speech-impaired offspring of a crack-addicted mother — are at present just germinal ideas that go nowhere. But Hoch’s quick-change ability to inhabit his characters remains striking, and while humor hasn’t been sacrificed, these 10 bits more delicately etch melting-pot tensions than did “Some People.”

Jo Bonney once again sculpts the performer’s high-octane energy toward sharply nuanced, immaculately timed peaks and valleys. Costume and set elements are minimal, Steevon Summers’ lighting design more active; excerpted hip-hop tracks aptly divide the individual segments.

Evolution of a Homeboy: Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop

Production: BERKELEY, Calif. A Berkeley Repertory Theater presentation of a performance in one act by Danny Hoch. Directed by Jo Bonney.

Crew: Lighting, Steevon Summers; stage manager, Nancy Losey. Opened, reviewed Oct. 22, 1997, at Julia Morgan Theater; 364 seats; $ 45 top. Running time: 1 HOUR, 25 MIN.

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