Taking Over Williamsburg

Founder of annual Hip-Hop Theater Festival dons the faces of gentrification in one-man show

by Laura Scott   |   Oct 31, 2008

Taking Over Williamsburg

Danny Hoch (Photo: Shirley Miranda-Rodriguez)

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Exploring the effects of gentrification under the guise of multiple urban archetypes, Taking Over is the new play written and performed by Danny Hoch coming to the Public Theater this November 7. Fresh from a sold-out run at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Hoch will analyze obsessive property acquisition as eight different characters living in an epicenter of rapid urban change, Williamsburg.

Hoch portrays an ex-con, real estate agent, real estate developer, grad student, car service dispatcher, street vendor, rapper and social worker. A fourth-generation New Yorker living in Williamsburg, Hoch writes from the unique perspective of both artist and local. The most important thing his show attempts to do is span the great divide that gentrification creates between classes and ethnicities. The newcomers tend to render long-term residents invisible in their own neighborhood, and the old guard tends to regard the newcomers with a wary eye. No one talks to each other, so it was up to Danny Hoch to write the dialogue.

Perhaps no performer is better qualified for such a large undertaking. Hoch prides himself on being a major voice for the hip-hop generation. He founded the annual Hip-Hop Theater Festival in 2000, an event that tours around the country. He composed the acclaimed play Jails, Hospitals and Hip-Hop, as well as the subsequent HBO adaptation. His acting credits include the cult hit Whiteboyz, American Splendor, Bamboozled, Black Hawk Down, The Thin Red Line and We Own the Night.

Danny Hoch may be the one individual able to start the much-needed conversation between the gentrifiers and the gentrified, the wandering settlers and the displaced locals. He seems to take the short view, not acknowledging that, at one time or another, all New Yorkers were settlers. But perhaps that just isn’t the point. The play looks at the problems gentrification is creating now, and hopefully the issues it raises will not go unacknowledged by the multitude of people involved.