Written and Performed by Danny Hoch
Direction by Tony Taccone
Through February 22, 2009
Kirk Douglas Theatre
Photo: Joan Marcus
Read the bio on Danny Hoch and you are sure you are about to see one of the giants of contemporary American theater: two Obies, an NEA fellowship, The Sundance Writers Fellowship, the CalArts/Alpert Award in Theatre, and a Tennessee Williams Fellowship for starters. He was the 2007 Sundance Theatre Lab's Playwright-In-Residence and in 2008 received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Drama. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Harper's, The Nation, and one of his books is in its second printing by Random House. With all that, he has multiple stage, television and screen credits for writing, performance, and direction.
It took a lot of commas just to list the highlights of Hoch's career, but still I was unimpressed (she said politely), offended (she said with more feeling), and could not wait to get out of his playat the Kirk Douglas, Taking Over, (she said in all honesty). How could this be? For one hour and forty minutes (or was it an eternity?) Hoch harangued the audience, with no intermission, about the damage gentrification has brought to his own neighborhood, Williamsburg New York. Revealing, in the process, why he is unable to have a stable relationship with a woman. Who could take a regular dose of that much anger?
Hoch accomplished his own demolition, solo, taking on multiple characters, most of whom were nostalgic over the good old '80's when you could find crack vials on the stairs and sidewalks. They were fairly sympathetic characters compared to the newbies: the newly graduated airheaded girl in ethnic shmattes selling tee shirts on the sidewalk while still getting a four figure allowance from her bourgeois parents back in Michigan, the oleaginous French realtor, or the equally slime ball multitasking developer, for example.
Hoch, himself is one of the "immigrants" to the hood and one suspects he was not the first college graduate to migrate to this now trendy area. Biologists say that people who do field work tend to assume that whatever the weather is the year that they are in a new place that is what is the norm. It seems that this bias exists often when people buy into areas rapidly undergoing change. However much grunge there was when they moved in is just enough to give the area character. There is a lot to be critical of in most gentrification, on the other hand cities that lack that potential tend to be headed for a downward spiral. After all, the brownstones that he bemoans being taken over by the hip wannabes were not built by those who are now being squeezed out. Cities are living entities. That other, never changing, Williamsburg in Virginia is a museum that really lost all authenticity.
Some of Hoch's characters are just downright funny. The Dominican taxi dispatcher was an hysterical bit, full of rapid fire jargon and Spanglish, and full of prejudice, adjusting his personality to whomever was on the other line. And then there is the old black woman sitting on the stoop who knows every kid by name and pulls no punches when she sees one doing something she does not think is right. She is a busy-body and the glue of a neighborhood at the same time. Annie Smart and Alexander V. Nichols have designed a wonderful combination of set and projection to create just the right atmosphere.
Before slipping back into his angry persona, Hoch stands in front of the audience reading letters of criticism he has received. It is not entertainment, but it is the most authentic part of the evening and provides a temporary sense of relief. Not that Hoch has nothing to say or that he has not figured out how to say it. It is simply that it is so one sided. Just as you think there will be some balance after all, back comes his disgruntled sophomoric persona, full of what is wrong with the world and nothing approaching a solution. Then, mercifully, Taking Over comes to an end.