Self-absorbed coastal types have never been particularly good at understanding rural America, but the last decade seems to have intensified our bewilderment. And that bewilderment — that sense of alienation from how the other half of America thinks and lives — serves as the inspiration behind Dan Hoyle's fantastic one-man show, back after a long 2011 run at the Marsh. The Real Americans is an ideal vehicle for Hoyle's brand of inspired mimicry. After embarking on a cross-country road trip to the reddest of red states, he has constructed a show in which he plays a slew of Middle American characters: a Reagan Democrat, a closeted fundamentalist, a reformed hippie. In a wondrous, immersive performance, Hoyle shifts his body and contorts his face so that he instantly embodies men and women of all ages, even pulling off a bang-up impression of Barack Obama. The result is several magnitudes better than what usually passes for political theater around here. Broadly speaking, political pieces tend to congratulate liberal audiences on what they already know, but The Real Americans distinguishes itself by offering a slightly nuanced look at modern conservatism while taking a few well-aimed shots at the smugness and cluelessness of San Francisco lefties. It's by no means a conservative show — the play's viewpoint is unapologetically liberal. But Hoyle is more genuinely curious about his ideological opponents than many of us who reside in what he calls the "urban PC bubble." Much of the genius of Hoyle's show lies in the fact that he traveled across the country to listen and observe rather than simply argue. Yes, he has his moments of lefty evangelism, most of which fail to sway the people he encounters. But by and large, The Real Americans is a rare and sincere attempt to create political theater that doesn't simply confirm its own premises — in fact, it's political theater that succeeds in expanding rather than contracting its audiences' horizons. Hoyle is brilliant, the show is a revelation, and you shouldn't even consider missing it.
Fridays-Sundays; Fridays, Saturdays. Starts: Feb. 17. Continues through April 14, 2012