Brooklyn native Danny Hoch recently brought a few friends and foes from the neighborhood to Culver City. In his new solo show, Taking Over, the tough-talking satirist aims to portray the clash between those born in the borough and the hordes of outsiders aiming to gentrify the place, eclipsing its flavorful, storied past with the creature comforts of Starbucks and luxury condos.
We meet approximately ten people in Hoch’s sometimes searing love-letter, some Brooklyn lifers, some newbies, all self-righteous in their sense of entitlement, unapologetic about their claim on the neighborhood. There’s the old African American woman planted squarely on her stoop, cup of coffee in hand, mouth running non-stop. She can’t comprehend the astronomic price of those newfangled almond scones ($4!) at the corner bakery. Her editorial about the appearance of a new breed of privileged young people with pierced faces and no manners is frequently halted by shout-outs and blips of hollered advice to the neighbors she’s known for a lifetime. Her worldview amounts to a string of hilarious annoyances about change, but hints of sadness seep into the cracks between her jokes, particularly when she says she feels entirely invisible amidst the new breed of New Yorker.
And that’s the formula for most of the characters that have lived the bulk of their lives in Brooklyn: they are tough and comical at the outset of their on-stage visits, but their self- protective stances give way to fits of rage or displays of fragility. There’s the down-and-out man-child still living with his mother and trying to swindle a job out of the Hollywood production team filming a feature on his block. He struggles to make nice with a member of the crew, but resorts to basically begging for a menial assignment. Hoch, in no uncertain terms, is showing us that the local kid gets nothing back from his birthplace, while the interlopers from Hollywood will rape the land and clear out. The actor plays this brand of character to great success, exploring the various emotional states of people firmly planted in their place of birth.
When not inhabiting the skins of those who share his roots, Hoch plays the intruders – the real estate developer with a penchant for yoga and outlandish justifications for the swing of his wrecking ball, the spoiled hippie girl oblivious to, among other things, the fact that her mobile t-shirt/CD shop is encroaching on residential property. Hoch launches side-splitting commentary on these faux Brooklyners, but his hatred of them feels too bitter. Though the scathing commentary elicits much laughter, a few doses of compassion would bring to the piece more emotional heft. It’s also grating to see Hoch step completely out of the world of the play near show’s end in order to explain his point of view and read to the audience a batch of nasty letters from detractors. This moment of self-indulgence and forth-wall breaching is a huge misstep that indicates Hoch’s lack of trust in his otherwise solid material.
Hoch is more stand-up comedian than thespian, but his ability to speak in multiple languages and get into the heads of several colorful characters makes for an entertaining evening at the theatre.
Through February 22 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. Tickets: $20-$45; call 213.628.2772.