When the investigative theater company the Civilians arrived a decade ago, they came armed with a theme song. “We do little and mostly inconclusive research!” they trilled. “We don’t use notebooks or recording devices.” The Civilians employ these lax techniques to create charming shows exploring geese holocausts, conspiracy theories, loss. But with 2009’s This Beautiful City, a play about evangelicals in Colorado Springs, the company got serious, documenting their interviews and checking their facts. Their latest show, In the Footprint, at the Irondale Center, brings these more mature tactics to a discussion of the Atlantic Yards controversy.
In the Footprint limns the arguments surrounding Bruce Ratner’s development project, which called for a large sports arena and many high-rises on a 22-acre parcel of Brooklyn land, part of it acquired via eminent domain. While some locals supported the project (particularly those marshaled by the community group Acorn), others opposed it and filed lawsuits against it. Most of those lawsuits failed, though the weakened economy will likely result in fewer buildings than originally proposed.
Writer-director Steven Cosson, co-writer Jocelyn Clarke, composer Michael Friedman, and a fine cast follow their subject from its announcement in 2003 to the recent groundbreaking ceremony. Their play draws on interviews with dozens on both sides of the debate, though the major players—Ratner, Mayor Bloomberg—declined to speak to them. (Borough President Marty Markowitz appears, portrayed by a talking basketball.) Though Cosson provides much innovative staging, his attempts to cram so many viewpoints into the show and create balance among them produces a somewhat jumbled piece. Bright moments abound—a bagel-shop anecdote, a surprisingly pompous speech from Jonathan Lethem—but narrative drive rarely emerges. And yet, a play composed of much energy, many voices, disjunctions, and fractures—well, as Friedman’s opening song puts it, that’s “so Brooklyn.”