Theater Review: Taking Over

Benjamin Walker
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NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Aimed at audiences for whom Brooklyn is more than just an eccentric place across the bridge from Manhattan, Danny Hoch indicts the town's gentrification (in particular, the Williamsburg neighborhood) in a one-man play convincingly stitched together from a series of brilliant, expletive-laced character sketches.

His take-no-prisoners style is precise, furious and rich with insight, history and a ton of laughs. It's also leavened with a gentle bewilderment about what it means beyond the obvious: that's it all too funny and all too true, and that none of the dispossessed -- with their simultaneously conflicting and overlapping notions of what community is -- know what to do about it.

In "Taking Over," a 67-year-old black woman sitting on the stoop, minding the kids, casually unleashes a dazzling string of both wise and wiseass observations. "Those French people," she concludes, "they can quiche my ass."

A graduate student talking at a "Celebrate the Community" event punctuates his repressed resentment at the changes he is powerless to stop with bursts of manic, ack-ack laughter. A multilingual Dominican taxi dispatcher, brilliantly switching from subtitled Spanish to English, promiscuously rains insults on "Ecuadorian faggots" and all the other "hick farmer drivers" from Latin and South America he dispatches. It's a virtuoso tour de force that Danny DeVito's Louie De Palma in "Taxi" can only have dreamed about.

Hoch's chaotic universe seems bounded only by the show's 90-minute length. There's a sweet and gentle, retro hippie street vendor from Michigan ("Who the hell wants to stay where they're from?") whose ultimate protection from physical danger is her not-so-hippie Dominican boyfriend. There's a rapper named Launch Missile Critical who eviscerates Dick Cheney while quoting Noam Chomsky.

Although few of the characters Hoch creates have anything beyond a generic personal background, each is cleverly thought out and, underneath the comedy, achingly heartfelt, and each serves to spotlight a particular collection of familiar cultural truisms and biases.

There is no sympathy, of course, for the foolish Brooklyn nouveau riche, whether they're "muffinheads" or "women wearing lipstick like they were vampires," and there's outright hatred for the predatory, vapid real estate agents and power brokers.

Hoch and director Tony Taccone enhance their dynamic, simply orchestrated presentation by opening up the stage with smoke-and-mirrors lighting effects and effective backdrop shuffling. Meanwhile, Hoch paces the action with a dancer's sense of rhythm and movement so that his portraits are far more than merely collections of punchlines and accents.

Beyond the script and the production's physical energy, Hoch totally controls the audience with his presence and voice. It's as if he transports them to an acoustical space and an environment of attention in which every word he speaks -- no matter the language, the accent with which it is flavored or the speed with which it delivered -- is heard perfectly. Somehow, even the relentless bouts of laughter and applause never cover his delivery.

At the end, Hoch tacks on a meandering faux epilogue in which he steps out of character to reflect on the issues he has raised, reads letters from fans and reveals some of his own vulnerabilities as a writer and performer. Hoch is saved when the grad student at the community event takes the stage back and ends the evening by walking off into the night.

Bottom line: Danny Hoch's play lays low the gentrification of Brooklyn with withering comic fire.

Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City (Through Feb. 22)
Playwright-performer: Danny Hoch
Director: Tony Taccone
Set and costume designer: Annie Smart
Lighting and projection designer: Alexander V. Nichols
Sound designer: Adam Phalen
Composer: Asa Taccone
Associate producer: Kelley Kirkpatrick