There's the white bookie giving a sermon at an all-black funeral. The Puerto Rican woman in love with a man who isn't what he seems. There's the English painter. And there is Jacques Hoffman, the Chicago jazz drummer-turned-government bureaucrat, who finds the common humanity in all of them.
Dominic Hoffman, the actor, writer and director behind "Uncle Jacques' Symphony," plays them all - and then some - in the powerful 90-minute one-man show.
"I was trying to find some way to show people in contradictory ways - we are very quick to stereotype and judge people," says Hoffman, who wrote the play 10 years ago. "So, I just thought about a group of people, one at a time … and wanted to show them in situations where their behavior ran contrary to what we expect. It's a compassionate look at humanity.
Cape May Stage is presenting the New Jersey premiere of the award-winning "Uncle Jacques' Symphony," the first production of their 2012 Main Stage season. The show opened May 11, and runs through June 15 at the Robert Shackleton Playhouse in Cape May.
The production, a winner of two Ovation Awards, has been performed in multiple venues across the country and the world, including at the Edinburgh Festival, The San Francisco Fringe Festival and in New York, Paris and Los Angeles.
The play is based on Hoffman's real-life uncle, Jacques Hoffman, a Chicago nightclub jazz drummer. The musician quits the late-night jazz scene of the 1950s when faced with the responsibility of raising a family.
"Where does someone find the music after that?" Hoffman asks. "You find it in the people. Together, it's a symphony of who we are. It's about composing a symphony with the company you keep."
With the music "torn from his soul," as Hoffman puts it, Jacques spends the remainder of his days "absorbing the sounds of humanity" - mostly through lessons learned through his friendships with seven very different people.
The play takes the audience through the dramatic ups and downs of success and failure, and the desperation to stay alive.
As the actor, writer and director of the play, Hoffman admits that trying to juggle the multiple characters may sound impossible.
"It's not easy. That's why there are not many solo shows," says Hoffman, whose television appearances have included roles on "24," "Lie to Me," "The Mentalist" and "The Shield."
Hoffman, who has also written for television and adapted two screenplays, likes to call the play "a verbal jazz concert."
"There is a commonality there (among the seven friends)," Hoffman says. "Just because humanity is so big. I try to put this all under one big umbrella."
The bigger theme of accepting people as they are is especially timely now, Hoffman says, as a national discussion about bullying and tolerance is in the news.
"Most things you do, after 10 years of perspective and change, you can do them better," Hoffman says. "But with this, people say … it's better now. And … it even seems more timely now. We've forgotten about the humanity of our lives. This celebrates who we are as people. And it does it without being cheesy. I can't really explain (the show's message), other then - people will be so glad that they didn't miss it. That sounds so boisterous, but the show is really worth your time."