Dan Hoyle’s ‘Border People’ stuns with critical contemplation of geographical, cultural experiences

Scene from the play "Border People"
Presidio Theater/Courtesy

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On March 25, Dan Hoyle’s “Border People” returned for a live performance at the idyllic Presidio Theater. Similar to the newly renovated theater, “Border People” bears a unique and impactful history. Written and performed by Hoyle, this one-man production melds journalistic theater with comedy to analyze the sociopolitical impact of markers of division on individuals and communities.

“Border People” unfolds through eleven different character monologues that recreate conversations that Hoyle had in the South Bronx housing projects, the Refugee Safe Houses on the U.S. northern border and along the Southwestern border into Mexico. Hoyle’s acting skills authenticate these recreations as he embodies a range of physical mannerisms and vocal expressions and navigates a carefully considered script.

Beginning with Officer Lopez, a border patrolman Hoyle encountered in Arizona, the actor saunters to the stage’s edge and speaks directly to the audience. Lopez is the only character Hoyle reprises, and he comedically frames the production’s primary concerns. The character points out that the production is about both geographic and cultural borders, asking “How do you start a show about borders in the Bronx?”

Throughout the production, Hoyle presents different narratives with varying complexity. Some of these characters are more fully formed than others, as the play is only 75 minutes in length, but each one contributes a depth of perspective and experience that is both heartbreaking and thought-provoking.

Even minor characters — such as one who immigrated to the United States after fleeing the Saudi Arabian police, and now heads north to escape the policies of the Trump administration — expand the play’s titular concept to include spaces of possibility and of pain. During his monologue, this character reflects, “It’s not a country if people aren’t talking to each other, it’s just people living together.” 

“Border People” uses larger characters to display the complex and intersectional implications of geographic and cultural borders. One of the production’s most entertaining characters, Mike Evans, who has Mexican heritage but grew up in South Carolina, spends over half of the conversation doing squats, pushups and dynamic exercises. 

Evans explains that he never considered himself to be Mexican, but “thought I was American.” After being deported, he learns that he only has a permanent residence card, not a green card. He poignantly concludes that as a former Marine soldier, he can return to the United States to be buried, but he can’t step foot on it until then. 

Hoyle concludes the play with a woman who immigrated to the United States from Iraq, and who struggled to make friends for years because of Islamophobic prejudice. Despite this impactful perspective, she is one of only two female characters, both of whom occupy secondary roles in the production. This lack of representation leaves the very pertinent question of gender as it relates to border experiences unsatisfactory and relatively unacknowledged. 

“Border People” marks a unique, powerful production that combines journalistic storytelling with theatrical excellence. Hoyle’s superb acting skills and intricate storytelling leave no moment unspent, and no audience member untouched. In fact, it is Hoyle’s excellent representation of specificity and his ability to create a moving, narrative discourse that results in a strong yearning for more, intersectional identities to be displayed. Yet, by attempting to represent such a broad category of experience, without direct mediation or explanation, the production is limited by its inability to tell everyone’s story. 

“Border People” received a roaring, standing ovation on Friday night, with audience members responding to Hoyle’s performance with unyielding enthusiasm. The performance leaves audience members to contemplate their own implications within border systems, and to process the life stories of these ten individuals. 

Contact Nathalie Grogan at [email protected].