Take a brief walk around Teviot at 6.30 one evening and you’re sure to see some people with a strange look on their faces. It’s a look of intense concentration, combined with a little bewilderment and shock, but mostly astonishment. These are the looks on the faces of the people who have just witnessed Dominic Hoffman’s sublime solo performance, a ninety minute tour-de-force of modern theatre acting.
A criminally small audience is gathered to see the Symphony of his Uncle Jacques, a former jazz musician who, after giving up telling stories through tunes, recounts tales of the people he meets in everyday life. These monologues take the form of one side of an imaginary conversation, and are so well performed that nothing whatsoever is left to the imagination.
The portrayals are stunning to watch, from the intellectual ghetto superstar, full of life and a spring in his step, through a young woman talking about her latest boyfriend whilst getting ready to meet him, to an old man giving an impromptu eulogy at a funeral, and Hoffman breathes not only life into his creations, but real emotion too.
He acts on a bare stage, captivating the audience, and the only respites occur between the portrayals, when the lights dim and the actor changes shirts and characters to quick bursts of jazz. The strongest of human habits are shown, and I left with the intended impression that everyone has their complex little lives, their melodies, reacting and interacting with others, like a solo chorus in a jazz quartet.
Highbrow with a common touch, the performance is remarkable. Hoffman is composed at all times, and articulate in the extreme; his action and diction are highly polished, riddled with rhyme and alliteration, deliberate movement and subtle asides. Every word and every motion is planned to perfection and executed with exacting precision.
Five stars, five stars made of solid gold, encrusted with diamonds, and on display in the Gilded Balloon. A supreme dose of fringe theatre at its world beating best.
Dominic Hoffman conducts the ‘song of humanity’ with character sketches in delightful one-man show.
In Dominic Hoffman’s delightfully sassy, funny and poignant one-man show, “Uncle Jacques’ Symphony,” at Stages Theatre Center, he attempts to capture short measures of ordinary people’s lives. Their complex patterns of sounds and sighs are the “song of humanity.”
Claiming that “jazz musicians try to play the impossible,” that they chase after “the terrific tune called life,” Hoffman introduces us to his Uncle Jacques, a jazz drummer who “spoke with his hands.” As Jacques and assorted other characters, Hoffman speaks with his hands, his body and a voice that easily changes inflections from the woman-wise young man lecturing on proper courtship behavior to the light-skinned Puerto Rican woman in love with a dark-skinned man and facing her family’s displeasure.
With minimal costume changes and props but elegantly effective lighting by Kent Inasy, Hoffman conducts us through seemingly incongruent lives. There’s an intellectually rude painter–an older man who mournfully still sees women through a young man’s eyes.
From her kitchen, a mother contemplates the wildness of her son, remembering also his love for baseball. We meet a boxer whose terrible future is foreshadowed in his memory lapses. Yet this small tragedy is followed by a bookie, the only white person present at a funeral, giving a hysterical eulogy for his pal, a drug pusher.
These sketches are short riffs of young braggadocio and joy, courage and love, sorrow and grief. Hoffman’s lyrical direction of his own words sometimes brings together the strands of thought in intriguingly unexpected ways.
The end comes too soon, signaled by Billy Mitchell’s original and fitting music.
~Jana J. Monji- Special to the Times
The two showcase roles of the avaricious yet principled lawyers are stylishly snappy — convincing as old dab hands at the bar, if somewhat less so as longtime partners. Indeed, Race would probably be every bit as effective, and considerably less pretentious and arrogant, as a radio play. But that would deprive listeners of the sardonic way Hoffman has of tilting his head and sinking into his chair with the weight of his dismay over the follies of everyone, himself included.
While playing a reverend presiding over a funeral, Dominic Hoffman introduces us to “three Cs” that have nothing to do with gemstones: clarity, closure and the circle of life. These concepts become the warp and weft of the story Hoffman weaves about a man who has died a mysterious death, and another who is searching for clues to the first man’s demise. In his search, the second man (represented by the audience) meets a host of characters, including an expat British cabbie; a resident of a crack house, who’s contemplating jumping from the roof.
Each of Hoffman’s representations of these diverse personae is distinct and memorable, but some of the funniest lines come from the roof-dwelling man’s riffs on race and stereotypes. He is mad about a lot of things, but he doesn’t “call it anger.” To him it’s just “a logical response to a fucked-up situation.” Similarly, the response of each character to his respective situation is portrayed with empathy and humor by Hoffman, who also wrote the piece and whose expressions and perfectly placed pauses milk its comedic potential to the fullest. While the details surrounding the man’s death become blurred as the show goes on, its examination of human relations becomes sharper.
Examining a victim’s life
Human truisms drive about the enigmatic collage of “Last Fare” at the Hayworth Studio Theatre. In this allegory-in-psychological mystery guise, which studies a murdered man through interviews with his contemporaries, actor-writer Dominic Hoffman considers that none of us truly knows each other, yet everybody affects everybody, even if they cannot detect it.
It’s easy to detect the formidable abilities of Hoffman, a double Ovation winner for “Uncle Jacques’ Symphony.” Compact and intense, with a liquid mug and a resonant vocal range, Hoffman carries the house from his first entrance as a reverend at a memorial service. This benevolent paternal surrogate frames the vignettes that make up “Last Fare,” as an unseen reporter (the audience) questions various entities (embodied by Hoffman) about the dead man in No. 609.
By the time we’ve traveled the circle of his life through a gallery of vivid characters — British cabdriver, wary superintendent or insouciant hooker — “Last Fare” unveils almost more about them than the departed. Using shifting layers of information to address social issues, Hoffman draws on a shade more content than necessary, but his writing chops are impressive.
“Last Fare,” fascinating in the Eric Bogosian manner, could benefit from a director. The text has many sharply un-PC observations, also a few too many repetitions that aren’t leitmotif. Although lighting designer Ken Booth and the excerpts from Branford Marsalis’ “Requiem” establish mood, transitions can confuse.
As a showcase for a significant talent, “Last Fare” is arresting. It just needs an outside eye to complete the picture.
– David C. Nichols
Accomplished actor Dominic Hoffman’s solo show Last Fare will likely rank among the best within the 12-day festival. Beginning at the funeral of a Hollywood man who was mysteriously murdered, the story follows a noir-like path through interviews with several people acquainted to one degree or another with the victim. Hoffman imbues the half-dozen or so characters in his beautifully written play with palpable life — life slightly larger-than, in fact, in keeping with one cab driver’s observation that in Hollywood everyone thinks he or she is a movie star. Suffused with alternately wry and raucous humor, affecting but understated emotion, and flashes of genuine insight and wisdom, Last Fare lures us to the fateful site of apartment 609, only to meet us with surfaces so crystalline in their appearance, and solid in their depth, that they become as much mirror as doorway.
San Francisco Fringe Festival
Hoffman’s “Last Fare” (at Exit on Taylor) could use some tightening in his segues between characters, but he’s such an accomplished actor that his 80-minute solo flies by. With only minor changes of costume, Hoffman switches race, gender and nationality as an unemployed black man, English cabbie, practical hooker and others explore the death of a neighbor – and many other aspects of life. Hoffman’s script is intriguing. His acting is engrossing.
To say that actor/playwright Dominic Hoffman is talented would be a gross understatement. Phenomenal might be a better word. By far the best thing about the recent David Mamet Dr Faustus at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, Hoffman is now in a three week run there of his own one man show, Uncle Jacques Symphony. If you love good theater that should be music to your ears.
Like Anna Deavere Smith and John Leguizamo, Hoffman does not create characters so much as inhabit them. An intensely physical performer, he moves like a dancer, his gesture precise and accurate whether he is a middle aged mother, cooking in her kitchen while she talks about her convict son, or a smart-ass kid giving advice about women as he dribbles a basketball on a school playground. And these are only two of the seven-or-so characters who come to life on the Magic stage in a scant hour-and-a-half.
Other characters portrayed include a Puerto Rican girl in love, an erudite British painter being interviewed for a newspaper or magazine, a brain-damaged Cuban prizefighter and a book loving white thug who shows up at the funeral of a black friend to talk about honor. Then there is Uncle Jacques himself, a South Side Chicago jazz musician who talks as much with his hands as with his mouth. He serves as both the overture and coda to the piece. Once a sideman during the heyday of the jazz age, Uncle J. was forced by time and circumstances to move west and take a job as a labor negotiator. But, he tells us, the music went on. People became his music and he sees God as this “cool brother who wrote this wonderful tune called Life.” Urging us to listen to the music he leaves the stage and that is exactly what we do.
Each of the characters has something to say about the business of life and it comes through loud and clear through the accents, idioms, and humor of their speech. The basketball-playing kid quotes Nietzsche, the boxer has a wonderful wisdom in between blackouts and the lovestruck teenager has something to say about prejudice based on skin color. The others strike their own notes, none of them strident but coming through more like the rhythms underlying the melodies of their lives.
Transitions are handled by some terrific jazz, composed by Billy Mitchell. The music comes on, Hoffman moves to a stage left coat rack, removes an article of clothing and become a totally different person. And then theres the music of language. No surprise that the actor has a degree in English Literature from UC Santa Cruz. He plays with words like a juggler playing with different colored balls– tossing them into the air, spinning the around, and dazzling the audience with the effect.
Now comes contemporary playwright David Mamet, renowned for his foul-mouthed liars and losers, gamblers and con men, to put a contemporary spin on the venerable story. Mamet being Mamet, it is a cynical one. There may be no redemption for the modern man. As for four-letter words, the only one you’ll find in Dr. Faustus, having its world premiere at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco, is “soul.” …Hoffman manages the magic tricks of Act One with aplomb and maintains a nice bored detachment as he works his devilish charms.
The painter stops in mid-sentence, staring fixedly at a point on the canvas. His right hand sweeps forward to apply a daub of color, accenting a detail in the portrait taking shape before our eyes. He steps back, his eyes weighing the effect of the stroke, then moves to his work table to dip his brush in a color as he resumes speaking.
There is no table on the stage at the Magic Theatre, though. There is no paint, no brush nor any canvas stretched between the audience and the actor in “Uncle Jacques’ Symphony.” All that’s there is an actor, Dominic Hoffman, so skilled in mime and character portrayal that every imaginary prop seems instantaneously concrete. By the time he finishes his brief sketch of the crusty, opinionated, domineering but achingly lonely old artist, we have almost as clear an image of the large painting as we do of the painter — and of the browbeaten young journalist squirming in a chair behind him.
Hoffman, a locally trained actor (UC Santa Cruz, American Conservatory Theater) who stepped into a lead role in David Mamet’s “Dr. Faustus” shortly before it opened, performed an earlier version of this show in Los Angeles and at the 2002 San Francisco Fringe Festival. He performed it on six off-nights during the run of “Faustus,” impressing artistic director Chris Smith enough to book it for a special three-week run that opened Wednesday.
It’s easy to see why. Hoffman is an accomplished actor with magnetic charm and the protean skill to transform himself into remarkably diverse personas. He’s also a pretty remarkable writer. Almost every one of the character sketches that make up “Uncle Jacques” is a beautifully detailed combination of psychological revelation and poetic imagination, developed with a fine ear for the music of character-specific speech.
Word music is meant to be the connective tissue between the sketches. Hoffman’s “Symphony” is in part a tribute to his uncle, a Chicago jazz drummer who gave up his art for a bureaucratic job to support his family. The first character in the show, Jacques — a smooth old-school hepcat with hands continually hitting rim shots as he talks — explains that the people we’re about to meet “are all variations on the same theme,” and that they’ve “got nothin’ in common ‘cept me.”
…”Jacques,” however, is a tour de force of acting and writing. With little more than a change of shirt and the red, blue or gold glow of Russell Champa’s lights, Hoffman transforms himself into a rich range of men and women — dancing sensually to Billy Mitchell’s engaging scene-setting jazz, blues or salsa riffs.
He’s comic and subtly, subversively touching as a young Puerto Rican woman putting up her hair as she confides in a friend, trying to work through her family’s hostility to her new, black Puerto Rican lover. He’s completely captivating as the rather unlikable old artist, a curmudgeon whose bullying of his young interviewer and strong prejudices on a variety of topics (words, women, prunes) deepen the impact of his admirably intense concentration on his art and his touching loneliness.
The ensuing scenes are just as engrossing. Hoffman is deeply affecting as an attractively upbeat and forthright, middle-aged African American woman discussing her late, “ugly” husband and trying to put the best possible face on the fate of a beloved son. Stripping to a T-shirt that reveals his beautifully sculpted physique, and moving with Sugar Ray Robinson grace, he’s riveting as a retired Cuban boxer, defending his sport while suffering breath- stopping bouts of brain damage.
He’s irresistibly funny and poignant in his last sketch, too, as a Damon Runyon-esque white North Beach bookie on his first trip to Oakland, uncomfortably delivering a wonderfully inappropriate, deeply moving eulogy at the funeral of a black drug dealer. The thematic connection between these gems needs work, but the individual movements in Hoffman’s “Symphony” are superb.