There is no denying that Richard Hoehler is a talented man. A winner of the The Off-Off-Broadway Review (OOBR Award) for Best Solo Performer, he knows how to own a room. In his latest monologue, I of the Storm, he tells tales, recites poetry, sings heartily and even dances a lick or two. You’re sure to take notice throughout even if it doesn’t quite all hold together in the end.
The story is told from the point of view of Hoehler’s alter-ego RJ Bartholomew. In this adventure, an increasingly shady finance whiz who goes one deal too far, gets sent to jail, and winds up living on the streets. There are clear-sighted descriptions of how poorly our society treats those who have paid that debt. (It should be noted that Mr. Hoehler is the founder of Acting Out, a professional-level acting class for at-risk youth and men who are incarcerated.) What is unusual is that his circumstances have led RJ to be more aware and alive than when he was in possession of money and power. If this seems unrealistic, just tell yourself that for this particular Alan Watts reader it is the truth. He is living his version of “holy poverty” in which having nothing to lose has given rise to complete freedom.
Over the course of 85 minutes, we learn snippets of RJ’s “riches to rags” story. The through line is kept in broad-brush watercolor, with splashes of the darkness of his greedier days and the light of his relationship with a free-spirited artist who goes by the name of Mars. Hoehler shares the narrative directly with the audience, but there is something missing from his invitation to completely enter his world. On the night I attended, those around me remained unsure about whether they were actually meant to engage with the character or simply observe.
Bartholomew keeps his mind nimble by writing poems in a tattered notebook. They range from Spike Milligan style doggerel to rap-ish verses akin to early Fresh Prince. Hoehler’s energetic recitations, staged engagingly by director Janice L. Goldberg, are punctuated by song phrases from the Beatles to Broadway. Along the way, Hoehler/Bartholomew make observations about the modern American way. Though his declarations aren’t revolutionary and details are few, the hopeful viewpoint is refreshing and presented with flair. A little editing would be wise. 75 minutes into the performance the presentation reached a saturation point, and the performer was in effect clapped-off by an appreciative but restless audience.
Painting also makes up the majority of Mark Symczak’s set. Three striking canvases and a swirled floor stand in for light, sky, ground, and cityscape. David Withrow’s costume captures almost the entirety of RJ’s rise and fall in a single blemished suit. Michael Abrams’ lighting and Craig Lenti’s sound add texture to key moments while making use of every production dollar.
Whether you are a crusader for social justice or a fan of fresh solo work, I of the Storm makes for an absorbing evening. It is scheduled to play through October 29 at The Gym at Judson. Tickets are available though Ticket Central. For more information visit https://www.iofthestormoffbroadway.com/about.