From the minute Geoff Hoyle sidles onto the Marsh stage in plaid pants, a mismatched jacket and a vest (eccentric costume by Beaver Bauer), with a violin, a big knapsack and a sly, squinty-eyed grin, you’re ready to laugh.
But in his new solo show, “Lear’s Shadow,” you may find yourself teary-eyed at moments as well.
That’s because rubbery-faced Hoyle is not just a brilliant clown, whose multiple skills seem sharper with every new show. He is also a deeply empathetic dramatic actor who can rustle up a shaky, querulous old Lear — Shakespeare’s poor fool of a king who divided up his estate before his death and banished his most beloved youngest daughter — that might break your heart.
The conceit, in “Lear’s Shadow,” written by Hoyle in collaboration with his equally brilliant director, David Ford, is that Lear’s jester, a coarse and crude fellow, is auditioning for a new job.
Having no references—his former boss is dead, of course (“It’s been a rough week in the kingdom,” he sighs)—he ends up acting out, for his future, would-be employer, the whole sad tale of his 47 years working in the castle.
During that time he babysat for the three little girls, withstood all too many slaps across the face, and not only entertained the temperamental monarch but tried his best to give him good advice.
Kibbutzing his way through the story in a Cockney accent, Hoyle plays not only the wise and bitter Fool, but also Lear — mocking him at times and yet ultimately fully inhabiting him – and all three daughters, including a few crucial scenes and some of Lear’s monologues. In all, he deconstructs the Shakespearean tragedy in 90 (slightly too long, it must be said) minutes.
He also fiddles and sings snatches of song, conjuring moods that vary from merry to melancholy – starting with “When that I was and a little tiny boy/ With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,” from the Bard’s “Twelfth Night”— and creates quite impressive vocal sound effects throughout, notably a ferocious storm on the heath as Lear goes mad.
Being the seasoned mime and physical comedian that he is, Hoyle needs nothing more than an empty stage, a chair, some salt, an egg and a handkerchief, and, naturally, the traditional jester’s hat.
It’s an astonishing tour de force from a performer who San Francisco is lucky to count as its own.
Where: Marsh, 1062 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes May 30
Tickets: $25 to $50
Contact: (415) 282-3055, www.themarsh.org