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Taking Over

Danny Hoch's latest solo show pointedly critiques the forces of gentrification with a powerful combination of humor and sharp character work.

Danny Hoch in Taking Over
(© Joan Marcus)
In what is perhaps his angriest solo show to date, Danny Hoch launches a pointed critique of the gentrification of his Williamsburg, Brooklyn neighborhood in Taking Over, currently running at The Public Theater. While it's not quite a balanced overview, Hoch gives voice to a range of perspectives utilizing a powerful combination of humor and sharply etched portraits of the characters he portrays.

He begins and ends the show as Robert, a man of Polish and Puerto Rican heritage, who drunkenly addresses the crowd at a Williamsburg "Community Day" event. Robert wants the "crackers" to "get out of our neighborhood," launching into a diatribe against the more recent yuppies and hipsters whose presence has resulted in sweeping changes for the longer-term residents, including the eviction of Robert and his family from their home.

His most endearing character is a nearly 60-year-old African-American woman who sits on a stoop, chatting with one of her friends, while also looking after the neighborhood children at play. She calls the more recent additions to the area population "resident tourists," and describes her experience of being completely ignored by those around her as she stood in line for almond croissants at the nearby French restaurant. Even though Hoch looks nothing like the woman he portrays in this scene, every vocal inflection and bodily movement vividly brings her to life.

Director Tony Taccone has no doubt aided Hoch in giving such a wonderful chameleon-like performance as he hops from character to character with minimal costume and set changes (both designed by Annie Smart). Composer Asa Taccone and sound designer Walter Trarbach provide an effective but not overwhelming audio backdrop to Hoch's work, while lighting and projection designer Alexander V. Nichols helps to clarify transitions and shifts in locale.

Through his multiple characters, Hoch addresses many of the complexities surrounding the issue of gentrification. He balances the nostalgia that some of the characters feel with accounts of how the neighborhood used to be the locus of violent crimes and rampant drug use. He also shows how some of the long-term residents are adapting to the changes, as with a Dominican car-service dispatcher who speaks in rapid-fire Spanish when talking to his drivers, and a much slower, sweetly intoned English with his mostly white customers. Many of his characters are depicted with humor, such as the revolutionary rapper, Launch Missiles Critical, but it's also true that Hoch reserves the most biting satire for those that can loosely be grouped together as the gentrifiers: a developer, a real estate agent, and an NYU dropout artist now selling her wares on the streets. Even these characters, however, are allowed to make the occasional good point about the positive effects of their presence.

In one of the most edgy segments of the show, Hoch addresses the audience as himself. He makes clear his anti-gentrification viewpoint while simultaneously talking about his own conflicted feelings and interests -- which include his ability to rent out his Williamsburg home for $1700 a week while he's out of town. Hoch even reads out what appears to be actual correspondence he's gotten from past attendees who have taken offense to the underlying message of his performance, as they feel it's a condemnation of them. And, of course, it is. Perhaps one of the best things that can come out of seeing Taking Over is that it will make many audience members uncomfortable, and cause them to question their own roles in the gentrification process.