Geoff Hoyle’s one clown show has re-opened at the Marsh in San Francisco and he’s as spry as ever as he re-enacts his 65 years of life and the memorable characters in it, although he seems to have omitted from his musings the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco including Bill Irwin and Larry Pisoni Senior. David Ford directs and Hoyle remains full of energy and looks as if he’s in good shape, his body and face constantly in motion throughout the two hour show.
Sequence to sequence, Hoyle infuses the characters who shaped his life with his common humility and shares his take on universals such as a crush on a teacher or bringing the new wife home to the parents; or wanting to see his deceased father again as he gets old. Hoyle eventually becomes his own father, donning a cap from Ireland and reading glasses to become the benevolent working class father who gave Hoyle a book of Shakespeare and who inspired a blind faith as Hoyle called it.
Plot spoiler, some of his opening words of wisdom:
Treat every day as if it is your last, one day you will be right.
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Everybody’s a clown
Hoyle focuses and reflects less on reckoning with mortality and more on the back story of his life in theater and what we don’t know, often mimicking father figures at various stages of his life--including himself as father of his own son and daughter. He reveals some inner most thoughts about his youth and the European periods, his mother and father in England and his own grown American children. Hoyle seems to have no regrets that he now in his sixties is a kinetic and elastic one man band rather than a small fish in a big pond, the West End of London. He lapsed into an American accent only once, which lacks the charm of his pleasant and soft English accent.
Parisian nostalgia and a little gypsy jazz
Hoyle sets the tone with Parisian sophistication and places himself on the fringe with his personal music selection. He sets the tone with his own selection of gypsy jazz, an instrumental by gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt who played outside of Paris in the 1940s. Django’s partner French violinist Stephane Grappelli lived until fairly recently and Hoyle told me he himself plays violin. Reinhardt and Grappelli founded Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934. Gypsy jazz has ageless, spirited and romantic style.
Indeed, ACT patrons will remember Hoyle from the French farce “Scapin” with the Pickle Family Circus’ Bill Irwin in the title role. The show was off the Richter scale of San Francisco comedy. I said to Hoyle, “You were in a bag”. He added with a satisfied smile, “being beaten”. Another fond memory.
The resilient Hoyle starts off his two hour schtick in “Geezer” with some commentary on the various ailments one faces in old age, his face constantly contorting as he mimes. He never holds still. His only prop is a wooden chair besides his own body. He comments indirectly on the last few decades of automation and detachment as death becomes a video game and the death reservation service is automated with voice recognition. It’s self-deprecating or humble, about everyman.
'Text' and 'Friend' were nouns
The old folks home brings various characters to life joking about their incontinence and loss of sexuality but the folks are all in it together.
He goes back then to where it all began to himself specifically, how he, the son of a type setter, auditioned for school and then went to Paris to learn from the teacher of Marcel Marceau, Etienne Decroux, whom he mimicks. Outside the classroom student radicals would shout “No capitalists” but then the protestors would go home for summer vacation, he mused.
Hoyle basically learned how to moon walk and took his talent to the old folks homes, prisons and such in London, basically doing public service for his first gigs. It sounds Christian. He was brought up Catholic he says and sings a few bars of gothic monotone, a Gregorian chant.
Sexy blond Latin teacher
He recounts the allure of his sexy blond Latin teacher, a 24 year old with a wasp waist, for whom he was required to act out the parts of the myths she read to the class. He became class clown early in life. Again, he incorporates the wooden chair as a creaky ship to wonderful comedic effect.
The little sparrow of life
He goes on about philosophy of life, about how one person is but a sparrow. He perches on the chair and does an astounding imitation of the bird. It’s not only a joy but a humble ode to powers of observation and the human condition.
He recounts returning to his parents’ home as a newlywed with his new bride and a fancy bottle of wine then and being put in separate rooms, the wife in the sewing room upstairs. He planned to creep romantically to her room during the night as if they were teenagers.
He mentions being in the Lion King on Broadway. "Circle of Life" was not his inspiration.
He’s getting older and in the second act, toward the end, there’s a magical and haunting trick he does using an old overcoat. He becomes two entities, one himself fighting off the grim reaper and the other the reaper. That segment alone is worth the price of admission.
He goes on to joke about his own obsolescence now that his children are grown, American and have their own generation’s language.
“Get your Hoyles straight. That’s my son”
My friend Kaeleen Costa had been taking notes on the show and his acting talents including singing in Latin and French and she asked him about his other show in Berkeley. “Get your Hoyles straight”, he said. “That’s my son”.
“Geezer” plays to October 26, 2013 at the Marsh in the Mission District. 1062 Valencia Street at 22nd, San Francisco, California 94110. Near the 19th Street BART station. Easily bikeable.
We had a light dinner at a pleasant and busy tapas bar around the corner called Esperpento, with a couple of sidewalk tables. We had four selections of tapas to share plus sangria and the check came to about forty dollars.
Wednesdays at 8:00, tickets $25 - $35; Thursdays at 8:00, tickets $25 - $35; Saturdays at 5:00, $30 - $35 sliding scale. $50 and $100 reserved seating.
Cookies $1.00; Sodas $1.00.
For more info: www.themarsh.org or 415 282-3055
For more stories by this writer check out CBS San Francisco's website under Eye on the Bay, San Francisco arts & culture "Best Of"; and San Francisco Arts & Culture on Examiner.com. Subscribe by hitting the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article.
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