The gentrification of his native Brooklyn provides a terrific focus for Danny Hoch’s patented brand of multi-character, multi-ethnic solo theater in “Taking Over.” Helmed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, this intermissionless show is brash, richly characterful and frequently very funny until it comes unglued in a couple rambling final sequences. No doubt that slack should be pulled tight long before this piece begins a lengthy touring life.
Hoch is in such sharp form here it’s startling to realize this is his first solo stage show in a decade. The reason for his long absence, we learn, is that he’s spent the interim acting for film and TV, writing for various media, directing others’ work and founding the annual multi-city Hip-Hop Theater Festival.
As he complains in a too self-serving penultimate sequence, the hiatus also was at least partly caused by there not being enough native New Yorkers left in NYC for Hoch to make a living there doing shows about them.
At the final preview attended, Hoch read the text of this very direct address from a music stand, either to separate it from his prior “character” turns or simply because the writing was still wet.
The scene starts out beautifully, then turns into a series of unflatteringly resentful digressions about his career and girlfriend problems before pulling back to the bigger-picture issue: That in Brooklyn’s hip melting-pot neighborhood, Williamsburg, the cultural stew is rapidly turning rich, white and arriviste.
Also problematic is the second appearance of Polish-Puerto Rican grad student Robert, who opens the show with a potently giddy, then angry rant. Back again at the close, he just drunkenly blathers.
One suspects these two less honed panels were late additions during previews. (The listed runtime was 20 minutes short.) Surely a stronger last lap will emerge from the raw material during the Berkeley run.
Until then, “Taking Over” finds Hoch reprising the strengths of late ’80s hits “Some People” and “Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop,” with even greater authorial and performance skill. Characters run a gamut from old-school residents to the new wave of “resident tourists” fleeing “boring” heartland states or other native terrain.
That influx is turning Williamsburg into a “funky” mecca for art galleries, cafes, upscale bars, exotic-ethnic (versus cheap ‘n’ local ethnic) restaurants — driving out the multilingual immigrant communities which had endured “heroin, crack, gun and AIDS epidemics” only to be displaced by $2 million condos.
They are even driving out the post-collegiate artsy alternative types whose arrival inadvertently paved the way for this profit-driven gentrification.
A kingpin of the latter is Stuart, a 60-ish developer pilloried by activists but who thinks he’s a “humanitarian” for enabling a safer, cleaner future — admittedly one where, “In 20 years this city’s only gonna be for rich people.” He delivers his self-justifying spiel while simultaneously doing a yoga routine.
Equally dazzling turns include: a motor-mouthed, mostly Spanish-speaking taxi dispatcher; Launch Missiles Critical, a rapper-revolutionist delivering a fight-the-power message to a gallery crowd of white hipsters; and Marion, a middle-aged black social worker who sits on her stoop minding the neighbors’ kids while musing on drastic changes in the ‘hood.
Francque, a French real estate agent showing off luxury condos, is a funny caricature, though vacuous twentysomething “artist,” Michigan emigre and development foe Kaitlin simply bears too much of Hoch’s scorn to be entertaining. He clearly feels more in sympathy with Robert, who got a teaching degree to benefit the community he’s now being evicted from; and Kiko, who’s just out of prison and desperately trying to hustle a job from the film crew incongruously shooting on his now de-thugged block.
Until the fuzzy last stretch, Hoch and Taccone have every gesture and beat tuned to perfection.
Annie Smart’s unit set of building fronts, the jolts of music and vid-projected photographs that fill each brief pause between scenes, and Alexander V. Nichols’ lighting are all sharp contribs.