By Joe Tash
The man’s hands shook from alcohol withdrawal when he approached Jerry Hager one evening to ask for a handout.
Hager was so moved by the man’s honesty — he candidly admitted he would use the money to buy liquor — that Hager gave him some cash and chatted with him for a few minutes, as his family waited nearby.
That experience resulted in a vignette Hager will perform on Sept. 13 and 14 at the Vine Theater in Rancho Bernardo as part of “Invisible,” a one-man show depicting the lives of 10 different homeless people.
The performance marks the final weekend of the theater’s annual summer series, now in its seventh year. Artistic Director Faith Jensen-Ismay uses the summer event to bring a variety of different dance troupes to the intimte theater on the grounds of the Bernardo Winery.
“Jerry’s work involves body language and how the body moves. It complements what we do,” said Jensen-Ismay, who also oversees the Mojalet Dance Collective, a school and dance company.
Hager, a mime, performance artist and story-teller who has entertained for decades around San Diego County, including work with schools and a long-running engagement as a roving performer at the San Diego County Fair, is returning to the Vine summer series for the fourth time.
In “Invisible,” Hager uses masks, costumes, voice, movement and music to tell stories of his characters, some of which are based on real people, and others who are purely fictional.
“It’s a subject that had been lingering in my heart and my spirit for some time,” said Hager of the upcoming one-man show. “Sometimes we will walk past people and we don’t see them … because of ideas that we think they are.”
While many homeless people do suffer from mental or physical disabilities, or drug addiction, their stories actually go much deeper and defy stereotypes, Hager said.
“I’m not really doing a show to address the homeless issue. I don’t have the answers to that. I’m doing a show about 10 people and who they are. I’m trying to take the cover off the book and get into the pages.”
The hour-long show centers on a developer who leaves his cellphone and keys on a rock while examining a potential building site, only to come back and find they’ve disappeared. A homeless person approaches and offers to lead him back to his belongings. Hager said the story is based on an incident that a family member experienced.
The characters include Penny, a 15-year-old runaway; Mitch, a man with cerebral palsy; George, who is mentally ill and possibly dangerous; and Jimmy, a paranoid thief. The show also includes an older woman who lives in a homeless encampment and acts as a motherly figure for Mitch.
Using a collection of half-masks and his skills of vocal impression, Hager will transform himself into each of the characters.
“I can give each one a personality, their own voice in words, their own sound and their own look through the mask,” he said. “They are real people for me.”
The theater seats 48, and Hager will perform the show three times — at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Hager ordered the masks for this show from a Chicago mask-maker.
“There’s a power of mystery and magic that goes with masked theater. It really gets the juices flowing for me,” he said.
He and Jensen-Ismay, the theater’s artistic director, have known each other since the late 1980s, when they worked together on an artistic program for local schools. They have since collaborated on a number of shows.
“It’s something about the simplicity and authenticity that makes Jerry’s work so great,” she said.
General admission tickets for “Invisible” are $16, and tickets for seniors or students are $11. Call 858-243-1402 for reservations, or buy tickets online at www.mojalet.com.