Music, according to Dominic Hoffman, does not live solely in the piano, the flute, the clarinet or any other musical instrument. It also exists in the gentle rhythm of a mother snapping beans for dinner, the excited cadence of a Puerto Rican accent and the fevered pounding pulse of a boxer at the punching bag. Music, he asserts, is inherent in every sound, and it infuses every aspect of our lives.
Hoffman eloquently demonstrates this philosophy in his humorous, insightful and often affecting one-man show, “Uncle Jacques’ Symphony.”
Jacques was Hoffman’s uncle, a jazz musician from Chicago who “talked with his hands” — always pointing, snapping and drumming his fingers, making gestures and sounds to communicate without the limitations of words.
Jacques eventually moved to Los Angeles and began working for the government, but he never lost his musician’s soul. He saw music in the lives of everyday people, and in a series of seven splendidly told, compact character sketches, Hoffman enables us to see it as well.
An accomplished writer, actor and voice-over artist, Hoffman employs all those skills in the service of his stories.
Together with a few select props and costume pieces, he creates a vivid array of remarkably realized and distinct characters: a jovial, well-educated basketball coach who gives his players a lesson in respecting women; a young Puerto Rican woman extolling the virtues of her respectful black boyfriend; a precise and articulate older British artist being interviewed by a journalist; a black Southern widow who found beauty in her physically flawed husband; a Cuban boxer whose devotion to the sport begins to compromise his health; a dignified black woman dealing with her son’s criminal behavior; and an Italian New York bookie giving testimony at a black friend’s funeral.
Connecting each of these vignettes are Billy Mitchell’s jazzy musical interludes.
What most amazes about Hoffman’s performance is the astonishing individuality of each character, and the subtle nuances with which he scores each story.
His writing is colorful and expressive, his direction admirably restrained. If there are any sour notes played, they lie scattered across the flow of various accents and languages, which periodically make it difficult to understand what’s being said.
Still, the point of “Uncle Jacques’ Symphony” is that music–even if it’s occasionally discordant–can be found everywhere in life.