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Hip-Hop Hoch

November 21, 2011 By:
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This pizza man delivers with a domino effect: Within 10 minutes of Sal Buonacotti bounding into the room, everything falls into place in Woody Allen's "Honeymoon Hotel," part of the trio of comedies that is Relatively Speaking, now on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.

Hold the anchovies: Danny Hoch has a hold on the play that carries the pizza and the night, playing Sal as the deus ex machina delivery guy whose street smarts unravel a honeymoon scene so smarmy that it could melt the porcelain figures atop the wedding cake from shame.
 
Thinking outside the pizza box? Sal has the soul of a pasta philosopher; with a little ravioli reasoning, he helps unravel the honeymooning couple's wedded blitz.
 
And if the accent is on Italian here, it speaks a lot for Hoch that he can carry "Talking Cure," too -- Ethan Coen's contribution to the triumphant triptych. In this, he plays a Jewish mental patient prone to jeremiads that jettison his physician's attempt to get him out of an institution.
 
Prosac prosaic? Not in Hoch's hot hands; no role can straight-jacket Hoch, a guy whom, in the old days, you would have expected to lead Occupy Wall Street. Today, he's occupying Broadway instead, one of the 1 percent of Tony Award probables for next June.
 
But Hoch, a king of Queens from the '70s, was up against the Wall long before it went into Vogue or Time. At Bar Mitzvah age, that writing on the wall led to an arrest for graffiti.
Patient for an answer? Danny Hoch's character (far right) is far from it in a scene with his doctor (Jason Kravits) in "Relatively Speaking."
 
But he was no reform school recruit: Hoch honed his talent to form an arts ego -- and attend the North Carolina School of the Arts.
 
And how many white Jewish rappers are joined at the hip hop with the Guggenheim Foundation, which gave him a grant in 2008?
 
In the vanguard of one-man show artists in the late '90s -- he was one of the more popular fixtures of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival -- Hoch was not just a head of his time but ahead of his time.
 
"People tell me that. But I wasn't the first," he concedes of putting together one-man shows of a thousand voices such as Jails, Hospitals & Hip Hop and Some People.
 
But if some people followed in his initial hip-hop steps of incorporating the music of the streets with addresses of their own, well, he doesn't feel co-opted but complimented, watching others cooperate with his vision.
 
Street Musician?
 
"More power to them," he encourages.
 
The playwright, film and stage actor is also, in a way, a music man -- swayed by the staccato swagger of hip hop -- although he denies the appellation of musician.
 
Yet is there any doubt that he has an ear for the beat of the off-beat? His handling of accents is in rhyme and reason with the way he has written for voices diverse and dynamic, delivering, as he has called it, "diasporas from all over the world."
 
But then, it hits home, too, as "Jews have always been quick to adapt culturally and linguistically to their environment."
 
He certainly feels and looks at home on Broadway, bridging worlds with his Jewish patient in Act I, and the Italian problem-solver of Act III.
 
"It was clear to me what Ethan Cohen was saying" in the first act. And in the third? "It's all in the writing," he says of building the laugh tracks. "Allen has a music in his writing."
 
At 40, Hoch has watched his career hip-hopscotch across the arts. As the founder of New York's Hip Hop Festival in 2000, has he still got the "fight the power" in him that empowered his first theatrical battle cries, leading to cable appearances and such publications about race and class as Total Chaos?
 
He's more controlled now, he concedes with a light laugh, the word "renegade" rumbling somewhat uncomfortably on his tongue. "I don't know," he says with a shrug in his voice, "I fight a lot less now with producers and directors."
 
And if Occupy Wall Street doesn't occupy his actions and mind these days, there's a reason: "The people I know who are fighting 'The Man' " are not sitting in Zuccotti Park, the Wall Street site that started the protests.
 
They're working the system from within, he claims. And just who are they? Hoch chuckles. "I'm not telling you; that's how effective they are" -- raising their concerns, not placards, he says, where they can be heard more effectively.
 
The youngster who once looked back in anger looks ahead with resolve. "There is a way to challenge" without destruction. "Walking around in a rage is not as effective."
 
But he is walking around the Broadway stage at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre accompanied by a storm of laughter these days, stealing the show. Power to the punchlines? Has the multiple award winner -- the much-honored Hoch owns a handful of fellowships and a number of OBIE Awards -- and author of Taking Over literally and theatrically taken over?
 
"I'll tell you when you're taking over," he says impishly. "When the younger people are pushing you out, telling you it's time to get out of theater -- or Wall Street -- that's when you've taken over." 

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