Writer-actor Danny Hoch has a complicated relationship with his audience. Late in Taking Over, his new solo show at the Public Theater, he drops character, looks out over the audience, and says, “I really want to be friends with all of you, but it’s hard. Because I feel like I wanna fucking choke you! But yet, I also wanna date you.”
Hoch takes on the subject of gentrification in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he owns a home. Though Hoch, having grown up in Queens, is not himself a native of the neighborhood, he displays vitriol toward recent incomers. As Robert, a Puerto Rican grad student, he declares, “I really just want all you crackers to get the fuck out.” Robert claims he’s “just playin’ with you”; Hoch isn’t. He voices this same sentiment as Marion, an African-American woman; Kiko, a Rockefeller drug law casualty; and Launch Missiles Critical, a hip-hop artist who authors the immortal line, “If [you’re] not readin’ Noam Chomsky, you a fuckin’ faggot.” With each character, Hoch uses his blocky, unhandsome face and mobile mouth to great effect, enjoying this racial and linguistic drag.
In between these sympathetic portraits, Hoch depicts the people who have caused upheaval in the neighborhood—Francque, a real estate agent; Stuart, a developer; and Kaitlin, an insufferable twentysomething who makes “jewelry from used electronic parts.” These sections amuse, but Hoch’s separation of Williamsburg residents into maltreated minorities and craven Caucasians is altogether too simplistic. Hoch makes many valid arguments—and some entertainingly invalid ones—about gentrification and culpability. But only when he divests himself of character and takes the stage as “Danny” does he approach the situation with any kind of complexity. He describes a recent afternoon shopping for artichokes at the Bowery Whole Foods and remembering how, 20 years ago, he watched a crack addict bleeding to death on that same corner. He’s overwhelmed by rage, sorrow, confusion, survivor’s guilt, and his own incipient yuppie-ism.
In a recent interview, Hoch told The New York Times: “I really just wish that all the people who stayed here through the crack epidemic and the violence of the ’70s and the ’80s could enjoy those croissants, and that we could enjoy them together with [newcomers] from Missouri and Minnesota.” But in Taking Over, no buttery detente seems possible.