Danny Hoch returns to a Center Theatre Group stage with his latest solo work Taking Over, which opened January 23 at 8 p.m. at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Performances continue through February 22, 2009. The production is directed by Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Taking Over is a riveting study of the effects of gentrification and how this is changing the face of many American cities. Hoch seamlessly transforms himself into the vividly diverse characters from his hometown, the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, and into the real estate agents and developers who are shepherding radical changes into the district's character and nature. Filling the stage with compelling, impeccably drawn, multicultural portraits, Hoch captures the complexities of the transition of a poorer urban community, once vibrant and colorful - albeit crime and cocaine-ridden - into a culture that is wealthier, less diverse, and the cause of higher rents and property values, and the subsequent displacement of long-term residents.
The production features scenic and costume design by Annie Smart, lighting design and projections by Alexander V. Nichols, original music by Asa Taccone and sound design by Adam Phalen.
Danny Hoch is a passionate and witty performer who can hold an audience in the palm of his hand for an hour and a half. Taking Over is a one man show that is filled with social commentary and personal questioning. His characters are vivacious and their dialogue is punchy and fresh. He even puts his own self in the mix with his characters, which serves to deepen the underlying themes.
Hoch becomes eight different people who are either native to or who have moved into his homeland, south-side Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Virtually all of Hoch's native-born Williamsburgian characters are threatened by the yuppie gentrification changes they are living through. Even though those changes include better services, better restaurants, cleaner streets, and less crime, they feel excluded as their homes are threatened with new developments, they can't afford to eat in the fancy cafes, and they don't recognize their old neighbors. It seems they would prefer their old drug-filled streets. They feel nostalgic for the old macho Brooklyn they grew up in.
First we meet Robert, thick NY street accent, the half Puerto Rican, half Polish emcee of Community Day who wends his way up onstage with a bottle of beer and a winning cackle. First he welcomes all the Puerto Ricans, Polish, Jews, Dominicans, blacks and other locals. Then he acknowledges all the "foreigners" from outside Brooklyn who are there, and quickly turns on them, telling them to "get the f*** out"- but in a shocking-charming Brooklyn sort of way which makes us feel like part of the joke.
Next up is Frank, the French condo salesman who introduces prospective owners to a new unit with all its amenities. He explains that the low-middle income housing next door serves as a buffer between them and the street. A two bedroom goes for a mere $1.7 million.
A stoop-sitting, coffee-drinking, neighborhood watching black female character who has lived in the hood for over 50 years explains that the tourists come and then they stay. She calls them "resident tourists." After finding that brunch at the French café cost her $36, she says they can "quiche my ass." She can't help herself, because the four-dollar almond croissants are sooo delicious that she goes back. But she soon realizes how she is so invisible to the yuppie patrons that she can flat out walk out of there with three croissants and no one even notices her.
The most sidesplitting character is the Dominican car service dispatcher. Hoch must be bilingual, as he seemed to nail Spanish in flavors of Dominican, Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian and Mexican with raunchy jokes for each of his drivers of different flavors. There are subtitles for all the Spanish bantering. And there is a hilarious contrast when he is answering the phone for a white customer or talking to his wife or daughter.
Another very memorable creation is the multitasking Stuart Gottbery. He is the big real estate developer who does his yoga-tai-chi exercise session while being interviewed. While doing the Cobra he's telling us he should be getting a Nobel prize for real estate, since he builds habitats. In 20 years, the city will be filled with nice people, and the ghettos will be in suburbs, where "they're supposed to be." He believes in ethnic restaurants "toned down for the American palate" because "people don't want to live in a safari, they just want to be there sometime."
When Hoch comes out onstage as himself, he explores his passion, anger and the play's message with the audience. He brings "letters" from audience members who criticize the play for not having a positive message, and for making them feel abandoned and excluded. Hoch explains his real life dilemma of realizing the good things about gentrification and at the same time, being upset at the destruction of the old ways and killing off of these old character types. It is symbolized by his attraction to women from outside of Brooklyn who move in, learn their life lessons, and then leave him behind when they leave. He can't seem to get into a relationship with another Brooklynite because there's just too much fighting and arguing from the very first. He is the first in his four-generation Brooklyn family to buy his own house, but he can't afford to stay and live in it because his performing success only comes to him on the road.
The issues in the play are real and immediate to the artist; and the audience gets to benefit from his creativity and humor in getting to the root of his angst. On opening night, an appreciative audience leapt to its feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation - reward for Danny Hoch for all his talent, discipline and hard work that made the show so entertaining.
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.
Photos by Joan Marcus except where noted
KIRK DOUGLAS THEATRE
9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232
Ticket Prices: $25-$65
Tickets may be purchased by calling CTG Audience Services at (213) 628-2772, in person at the Center Theatre Group box office (at the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles), on-line at www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or at the Kirk Douglas Theatre box office two hours prior to performances. Hot Tix: $20 each may be purchased in advance or, subject to availability, on the day of performance at the box office (no checks). Groups: (213) 972-7231. Deaf community: information & charge, TDD (213) 680-4017.
Performances continue: Tues. through Fri. 8pm. Sat. 2pm and 8pm. Sun 6:30pm through Feb. 21. Sun. Matinee at 1pm Jan. 25 and Feb. 22.
Published on Jan 23, 2009