Entertainment » Theatre

Taking Over

by Trevor Thomas
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Sunday Feb 1, 2009
Danny Hoch in "Taking Over"
Danny Hoch in "Taking Over"  (Source: Joan Marcus)

Danny Hoch's play "Taking Over" has enough press now that its premise - a one-man diatribe against the gentrification of his old Williamsburg neighborhood - comes as no surprise. It is therefore with a sinking feeling of "oh, dear" that one encounters the curtainless set with its too familiar depiction of East Coast urban rot and waits upon Hoch's appearance to the mindless pounding of banal ghetto rap. One wonders if we are maybe in for another harranguing diatribe against the very sort of people who can afford tickets to live theater.

But that's not what happens.

Instead, Hoch creates and inhabits a half dozen characters who are less victims of urban renewal than its hardy survivors. The elderly black woman who sits on her stoop gossiping and babysitting a street full of neighborhood children laughs at the pretensions of the ridiculous Whole Foods yuppies while the Dominican cab dispatcher brutally rips into his drivers for being clueless peasants (in Spanish with projected subtitles - a tour de force), while switching to an obsequious, cheerful English to take incoming calls from white fares. There is the hippie-dippy white chickie who came to Brooklyn to be an artist and now sits on the street corner jabbering politically correct platitudes and selling T-shirts as well as the dim-witted Guido with Brando delusions ineptly trying to charm his way onto the set of a visiting movie crew. Through his characters' frustrations and attempts to cope, Hoch condemns the cultural devastation visited upon his old Brooklyn neighborhood by the ravaging hordes of the nouveaux riches.

On the surface, there is little difference between the xenophobic message of unwelcome Hoch delivers to the vapid materialistic Manhattanized types overrunning the familiar Williamsburg streets and the ugly and unapologetic hatred of the Irish invasion Daniel Day-Lewis portrayed in Scorsese's "Gangs of New York." Both men rage against newcomers who bring with them unfamiliar cultural artifacts and neighborhood drowning populations. But where Hock is no Butcher Bill is in his honest admission that he actually likes being able to buy organic fresh fruit and get a $4 almond croissant at all hours. Nor does he mind the vastly increased value of his real estate portfolio.

His greatest character, it turns out, is himself and he plays Danny Hoch as he does the rest of his inventions -- with keen insight and brutal honesty. His Danny is a complex of contradiction, ambiguity and hypocrisy, and it is through his self-portrait that we experience "Taking Over" not as a harangue, another salient in the nattering expressions of ethnic and class warfare that too often pass for modern theater, but as an angry monologue against time itself.

In making light of the irrationality lying just beneath his chauvinism Hoch exposes the truth that makes his play profound: that for almost all of us, our greatest joy in life lies in our memories of the "good old days." No matter how painful their acquisition, our memories are cherished for being proof of our having been somewhere, and alive. Change comes, whether for good or bad, to rob us of our sense of significance, and all one can do, as Dylan Thomas wrote, is rage against the dying of the light.

"Taking Over" is wonderful for being written by somebody who is unashamed of his anger but wise enough to comprehend what it really is. His work for all its fury is really a love song to the art of survival.

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