By Godfrey Hamilton
Directed by Liz Skitch
"DIRK HOULT GIVES A BRAVURA PERFORMANCE...
HIS PITCH-PERFECT ACCENTS, LIGHTING CHARACTER SWITCHES,
AND EASY COMMAND OF THE STAGE MAKE IT SOAR"
REVIEW: The Advertiser | Tim Lloyd | ★★★★★
Dirk Hoult plays at least four characters in Road Movie, and each of them is a study in itself. The main character, Joel, is a helpless drunk executive from New York travelling to be reunited with his new San Francisco lover, Scott. Then there is an earth mother handing out condoms in a gay beat in Georgia and a zonked hippie girl. The meticulous handling of each character is reflected in the production itself, which is simple but comes alive through the economical use of lighting and sound effects. Road Movie's blurb says it is set in the mid-1990s, but it feels earlier than that. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is in full swing, and this is a production of people reeling from the impacts of a new disease that is killing most of those afflicted by it. That begs the question of where this play fits into 2012. One possible motive is the way that AIDS is continuing to move through populations and take its toll. The other is that it provides exquisite characters for Hoult to visit.
There are some stunning productions that are blessing this year’s Adelaide Fringe Festival, and “Road Movie”, solely performed and presented by Dirk Hoult, is one such blessing. “Road Movie” is set in the mid-1990’s United States when the country could no longer avoid or deny the HIV/AIDS crisis that had claimed a generation of people. It charts the journey of Joel, a New York-based PR executive self-medicating with alcohol to make the false world he sees bearable. A booze-filled episode at a press junket in San Francisco leads him into the care of Scott, who nurses him back to sobriety. Following his reluctant return to New York, Joel soon sets out on a journey cross-country back to Scott by way of Washington DC and Atlanta. Written by Godfrey Hamilton, the subject matter is by no means unfamiliar, but the elegant, evocative and stirring text places it firmly in the lexicon of another seminal homosexual piece of its time, “Angels in America”. Hoult’s execution of the text is all-consuming. On a creatively lit bare stage with two stools as the only props, he flicks between the characters that Joel encounters on his journey without missing a beat. In addition to Scott, his saviour and muse, he meets ‘Mama’, a southern transvestite dispensing condoms, and Dharma/Deidre, a stoned free spirit. Each character is whole in voice, movement, and natural expression; it is a sight to see and hear. Operation of light and the atmospheric soundtrack should also be given credit, but this show belongs to Hoult and his seamless, bravura performance.
This one-man show is a poetic and moving tour of AIDS-era America. The disease ravaged the gay population in the US in the 1980s, thanks to the Reagan administration's indifference and its failure to promote condom use. Still, despite the enormity of the show's grief, the script never stoops to mere sentiment. The tragedy is leavened by the brilliantly observed caricature that retains the human shape beneath it, and Godfrey Hamilton has an unusual gift for strong metaphor and precise visual imagery that carries the weight of suppressed emotion. Dirk Hoult gives a bravura performance as Joel, a gay man from New York who winds up in a San Francisco gutter, meets a stranger and falls in love. The West Coast sojourn ends as quickly as it began, but Joel is drawn back to his lover and embarks on a road trip across America to see him. Along the way, he meets a motley cast of eccentrics: a black woman handing out condoms in Atlanta, Georgia, spurred to action by her son's grim death; a lonely waitress at a desert diner whose daughter committed suicide; an unreconstructed Californian hippie resolving (or perhaps avoiding) her grief through psychoactive pursuits. Joel also visits the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington - that black snake of a monument with dead men's names for scales - and compares it to those who have fallen to AIDS, feared and forgotten while they were alive. Road Movie might seem a period piece in the West in the age of effective HIV- fighting medication, but Hoult's acting - pitch-perfect accents, lightning character switches, and easy command of the stage - makes it soar. January 27, 2012
Road Movie is a stunning one-man show about earnestly searching for love and the despair when it is cruelly snatched away by an insurmountable enemy. Dirk Hoult plays Joel, a gay New Yorker who is desperately trying to find himself through the love of another person. He has lost a small part of himself along the way, somewhere, and he is desperately trying to retrieve it. Tragically he has AIDS, and he habitually looks in the wrong places. But this is not just another AIDS story. There is a genuine risk that it could be self-pitying and an anthem for the tragedy of an underserved disease and wasted life, but the writing leaves such overworked themes well behind. Joel finds himself down and out in San Francisco and meets Scott, who is attracted to him. They form a relationship, but it ends when Joel returns to NY. Joel misses his new lover terribly, and after a period of trying to make the best of a long-distance romance, he decides to return to SF and heads off on the five-day road trip to get there. At various stopovers on the way, he meets a number of quite peculiar characters, each share very personal aspects of their lives, and through these encounters, he learns more about himself and about meaningful love. However, when he arrives in SF and looks for Scott, he is greeted by the tragic news. Hoult’s performance is remarkable and very moving. The text is largely comprised of a number of episodic dialogues – the solo actor speaking both parts – separated by narrations, and Hoult moves effortlessly and convincingly between the numerous characters; a different smile and set of the head for one character; a different lilt and accent for another. His characterizations were hip and humorous when they needed to be and heart-achingly sad at other times. The intimacy of the venue allowed him to seemingly look his audience members in the eye and share Joel’s pain and joy with them. The text by Godfrey Hamilton is exceptional. It is richly described without being overwritten or laboured. The numerous characters are quickly established, but there is enough substance in each of them for Hoult to develop. The writing in the final scene – where Scott’s drugged-out flatmate explains that each piercing in her face is a memorial to a friend and that the most recent one is still painful to the touch – was incredibly moving and poignant. This is the sort of theatre that you can very easily go back to and see again and again.
A powerful one-man show dealing with issues of love, loss, and HIV. Following a night bingeing in San Francisco on all forms of drugs, Joel is saved from the gutter by Scott, who takes him home, where the seduction begins. The small-time with Scott is not enough for Joel, who takes the road journey from his home in New York in search of his new love while stopping at a memorial in Washington and bumping into a grief-stricken mother in Texas. Hoult rises to the challenges in presenting the complexities and unique struggles of each character. He successfully lulls the audience into Joel’s world of fantasies and hope before snapping away from romanticism into the darkness of loss. The play itself is truly a journey, one best suited to the intimacy of a small performance space in which Hoult can question everyone directly with eager eyes. Joel’s desires for more in life and sometimes dry outlooks on life stare right at you during those moments, leaving you with the sensation of being the extras in the performance. The piece cycles poetically with a delightful emphasis on the symbols of hope and loss that the characters hold dear to their hearts. However, it ends as it begins leaving a stronger desire to reflect solely on the piece rather than to question our own outlooks on life and dealing with grief.
Dirk Hoult’s performance in writer Godfrey Hamilton’s one-man-show is powerful stuff, especially considering the number (and complexity) of characters portrayed, the shifts in time and location, and the intimate rawness of the emotion. Set in a mid-'90s America still gripped by the AIDS crisis, Hoult’s chief focus here is New Yorker Joel, a mess of a guy dragged from a San Francisco gutter one night by Scott who, startlingly, professes to love Joel at first sight and whom, unfortunately, Joel must leave in the lurch for various reasons. When our protagonist is able to return, his five-day trek takes him past a Vietnam memorial and into the US heartland, as we’re introduced to a Southern belle handing out condoms, a distraught mom dealing with her daughter’s suicide and others, as we build to a climax that’s, perhaps, somewhat telegraphed but, nevertheless, proves pretty damn devastating. Final Word: Heartfelt.