This article was originally published in the March 2018 Trenton Downtowner.
Passage Theater sets the March stage with a presentation of one of its signature events, Solo Flights: new stage works performed by a solo performer.
Focusing on a single presentation this year, rather than a series, the nonprofit professional theater selected a three weekend run of “I of the Storm.”
The story involves a homeless street poet whose lyrical address to the world chronicles his story. A formerly successful businessman, the fallen man at the center of his own stormy emotions had succumbed to white-collar crime, was imprisoned, and saw his family, friends, career, and lifestyle evaporate. What remains are the writing skills he honed in prison and his self-appointed role as an oracle or prophet who rails against societal complacency, greed, and self-destruction.
Actor Richard Hoehler embodies the speaker, whose telling is more spirited than his circumstances. As a Broadway World reviewer writes about the play, “Though his situation may seem bleak, the character is liberated and feels as if he found the essence of life — taking time to enjoy it by not being preoccupied with money, responsibilities, negativity, and what society deems important. Hoehler’s character spends his days sharing his poetry with passersby and encouraging them to focus on not being consumed by their jobs and going through the daily motions without taking time to just appreciate the present and one’s surroundings. He urges them to seek the opportunity, enjoy and truly experience life, be grateful, and have a more positive outlook as opposed to being jaded by all the negativity in the world.”
While Hoehler shares the bill with playwright RJ Bartholomew, it is still a solo flight. As he says, “This is all my own work. I use a pen name, R.J. Bartholomew. All of my solo work is original,” he tells Street Sense Media (SSM) in a 2017 interview. RJ is also the name of the character.
The Carteret born and raised Hoehler is an actor and writer. He created several solo shows performed off Broadway, regionally, and internationally, receiving an Off-Off-Broadway Review Best Solo Performance award in the process.
The 64-year-old son of a truck driver father and secretary mother has also written multi-actor plays, created a fiction work based on working in a series of New Jersey dead-end blue-collar jobs, and appeared mainly in off-Broadway productions and on popular television shows such as “NYPD Blue” and “Law and Order.”
He is also the workshop director for the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Competition, director of their annual awards ceremony at Symphony Space, and more.
“I’ve worked for years with at-risk in New York City schools and for the last six years I’ve been working with Otisville State Prison teaching an acting class called ‘Acting Out,’” he tells SSM. “The courses began to be developed for kids who have behavioral issues and things like that, and it’s developed into a professional acting class. It’s based a lot on my training but also on the needs of the group that I’m working with and it’s really about each person taking advantage of who they are and using themselves. I don’t believe acting is being somebody else; I believe acting is being who you are, perhaps in a different situation.”
With his belief that “theater training is mostly philosophy-based,” he provides a philosophical peek into his work. “What I look at is the human condition, and I think that regardless of if a person is homeless or has a home, that there’s a basic human condition there that we all share, regardless of what our challenges may be. And that’s what I try to focus on so that people can identify with it regardless of their station in life.”
Hoehler says his attraction to solo shows started with seeing one created by well-know writer/performer Eric Bogosian (author of the noted 1987 show “Talk Radio”), began experimenting, and found a venue. “What usually happens is I start my show out where I’ve started a lot of my shows out, at a place here called the Cornelia Street Cafe (in New York City’s Greenwich Village). The first time I worked there the guy saw my work and said he liked it and that whenever I’ve got something new to bring it there first. What happened with this show that I’m bringing down to D.C. is somebody saw it at Cornelia Street and really, really liked it and said, ‘I’d like to help you get this out into the world.’”
While “I of the Storm” fits Passage Theater’s regular programming, the play’s passage to Trenton comes through professional and personal connections. Its New York director is Janice L. Goldberg. She is also the director of former Passage artistic director June Ballinger’s solo show “Once in, Never Out!,” about her mother’s involvement with the secret World War II British code-breaking center.
In addition to that show, which premiered in Trenton and is now appearing at various theaters and educational centers along the East Coast, Goldberg has directed more than 75 new works, received a Kennedy Center Gold Medallion Award for her work, and is the producing artistic co-director of Artistic New Directions in New York.
I of the Storm, Passage Theater, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 East Front Street, Trenton. March 9 through 18, Fridays through Sundays. $13 to $27. 609-392-0766 or passagetheatre.org.