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April 1, 2011

In general, I think that artists' head shots should reflect what the artist looks like now. But performers make money at least in part by their looks and getting head shots done is an expensive business. So it's no surprise that there's often a great discrepancy between the photograph that a performer chooses to include with his or her publicity materials and what they actually look like on stage.

The photo in the press packet that accompanies Geezer, Geoff Hoyle's new solo show at The Marsh in San Francisco, doesn't shy away from this discrepancy: It shows the artist, who's 64 years old, as he was at least 20 years ago. In the photograph, there are a few wrinkles on Hoyle's face and his hair is beginning to thin. But it's definitely a much more youthful looking artist than the one that stands before us today on stage. The wrinkles are much deeper and the receding hairline reaches way back on his skull.

"This is what I USED to look like!!" the artist scrawled on a post-it note appended to the image.

It's the perfect visual metaphor for the show, which is all about the aging process. Shakespeare summed up Hoyle's feelings about this brief spell in time we call life when he wrote: "Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more." The consummate performer takes this sentiment and runs as far with it as his creaking limbs, swelling prostate and popping varicose veins will allow him.

Hoyle has packed a lot of living into his 64 years and this mostly autobiographical production is full of vivid stories of a life richly lived.

The performer studied under the mime master Etienne Decroux and participated in the student riots in Paris in 1968. He spent time on a commune in the Ozarks and performed on Broadway in The Lion King.

The bittersweet thing about all of this is that it all goes by in a flash. By the end of the show, hunched up and wheezing with his lips puckered and his eyelids pressed together, Hoyle fast forwards about 20 years to paint a portrait of a comically wizened octogenarian.

At least this makes the present-day 64-year-old actor who stands before us -- a living head shot -- look lithe and young.

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