Another week, another Berkeley Repertory Theatre show going to Broadway.
Carrie Fisher’s autobiographical solo show Wishful Drinking, directed by Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, will open in October at — where else? — Studio 54, where it runs through Jan. 3. The show is produced by Roundabout Theatre Company in association with Jonathan Reinis, Jamie Cesa, Eva Price, and Berkeley Rep.
This is the fourth show to head from Berkeley to Broadway in the last four years: Sarah Jones’ Bridge & Tunnel (2006), Stew’s Passing Strange(2008), and Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) (2009). It’s also the 12th show in as many years to make the West to East transition. The list includes Danny Hoch’s Taking Over(2008), Ruhl’s Eurydice (2007), Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibar (2006), Naomi Iizuka’s 36 Views (2002), Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses (2001), Hoch’s Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop (1998), Anne Galjour’s Alligator Tales (1997), and Philip Kan Gotanda’s Ballad of Yachiyo (1997).
“This is the culmination of a long process,” Taccone said in a statement. “Berkeley Rep has a history of developing new work and, with our commissioning program, continues its commitment to bring fresh ideas and alternative viewpoints to the stage. I am pleased with the success of this project, and honored to collaborate with all of the people involved to bring this show to Broadway. It has been truly gratifying in recent years to see our shows reach a wider audience in New York, Los Angeles, London, and other cities.”
The 2008-09 season hasn’t even begun and already changes are afoot.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre announced yesterday that it will postpone David Henry Hwang’s Yellow Face, which was to have concluded the season.
Here’s from the press release: ” The theatre hopes to present the show in the fall of 2009 and then tour its production to other cities. (Tony) Taccone is now selecting a new script to conclude the 2008/09 season.”
The same press release — in much bigger and brighter language — also announced that Danny Hoch’s solo show Taking Over will tour. The Taccone-directed show, which had its world premiere in January, will head to Los Angeles (Mark Taper Forum, Jan. 23 – Feb. 22, 2009), Montreal (July 8, Just for Laughs Festival) and New York City (Public Theatre, fall 2008). This is the third work (after Sarah Jones’ Bridge & Tunnel and Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak’s Brundibar) that Taccone has sent to New York in as many years and the fifth in Berkeley Rep history.
Said Taccone: “I’m proud of this piece and pleased that it will travel. By examining gentrification in his own neighborhood, Danny is grappling with issues that affect cities everywhere. Audiences at Berkeley Rep loved it because of his insight and humor, and I look forward to sharing it with a wider community.”
Opened Jan. 16 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage
Hoch’s solo artistry takes `Over’ Three stars Brilliance and brio
Let there be no question about Danny Hoch’s genius. To throw around a few adjectives, the man is fascinating, funny, provocative, entertaining and powerful.
His new solo show, Taking Over, now having its world premiere on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, is more than just a collection of deft characterizations and finely tuned accents.
Taking Over, directed by Tony Taccone, is a real play about a real issue. Specifically, it’s about the gentrification of Hoch’s own neighborhood, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. But the larger view of the piece has much more to do with American shortsightedness and greed as well as our blithe, unthinking adaptability.
In a hefty 100 minutes, Hoch plays nine characters (including himself) of different races, cultures and genders. Oddly, the only character that doesn’t quite convince is the one called “Danny, a performer.” But more on that in a minute.
The bookends of the show take place on a stage at the Williamsburg Community Day celebration. A native son, Robert, has hijacked the stage because he has something to say to all the newer residents, the ones who don’t belong there: “All you American crackers, get the f—out.”
He says it’s OK for the Hassidic Jews in the projects to stay. And the black folks, and the Italians, and the Puerto Ricans and the Poles, among others. But, basically, all the white people from anywhere else in the country have business in Brooklyn, so they should take their bars and galleries and cafes and over-priced baby stores and head back to the suburbs or the square states — or California — or wherever they came from.
Who really belongs in a city, to a city? Is it Francque, the French real estate magnate selling lofts with Manhattan views for a million-plus? Is it Marion, the black social worker who sits on her stoop interacting with her neighbors and simultaneously bemoaning the influx of high-priced eateries and waxing poetic about their almond croissants?
Is it Stuart Guttberg, a hugely successful developer with 3,000 vacancies to fill and a $300 million loan to pay back who wants to give new residents a safe neighborhood but “with the right level of zing”? Or maybe it’s Kaitlin, a sweet, dippy hippie from Michigan who peddles CDs and T-shirts from a cart on the street.
The most convincing argument comes from Kiko, whom we meet when he visits the movie location shoot just outside his apartment building. With his mother watching from a window above, Kiko approaches a production assistant and, all the while attempting to maintain his dignity, essentially begs for a show job so that his mother can see how he’s trying to get his life back on track now that he’s out of prison.
Hoch’s writing and acting synergize in this scene so powerfully, and the character becomes so vivid, so complex, it almost stops the show. Here is old-guard Brooklyn, someone who survived the drug-laden ‘80s and did his time as a result, and now finds his home to be squeezing him out.
The sea changes in Brooklyn are felt in all the scenes. A Dominican taxi dispatcher unleashes a torrent of bile and foul language across the radio to her drivers (in Spanish, no less, with supertitles projected on the set), then refuses to allow her siblings to speak anything but English so people don’t think they’re ignorant immigrants.
A rapper, Launch Missles Critical, who has nothing good to say about the new Brooklyn, finds his tough-guy stance somewhat diminished by having to perform in the only venue that will welcome him: a pretentious arts center.
Then there’s Danny, who drops the costumes (by Annie Smart, who also designed the effectively minimalist set) and the accents to talk about his ‘hood. But he does some from behind a music stand, and he reads his text. When he should be connecting with his audience personally, he’s hiding behind pages and a stand. It’s strange _ maybe he had just written the scene and hadn’t yet memorized it. Whatever the reason, the scene is dodgy. What Hoch has to say – about making art wherever you’re from, even if the people there are, in your opinion, ignorant – is important. How he’s saying it doesn’t work nearly as well as the rest of his show.
And his show’s ending, a return to Robert, the angry Brooklynite, delves into tricky emotional waters involving 9/11, and it seems separate from the rest of the show. There’s a whole soy milk monologue that seems to come from nowhere, and, if this scene really were happening on a public stage at a neighborhood community day, it would never be allowed. There’s a believability gap in a scene that’s already asking us to take an emotional leap that’s more of a stumble.
Even with its bumpy ending, Taking Over is an extraordinary evening spent in the company of one man who fills the stage with compelling people and a compelling argument for living a more examined life, wherever that life might happen to be.
Taking Over continues through Feb. 10 on Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33-$69. Call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org for information.
It’s been 10 years since Danny Hoch jolted the Bay Area theater scene with Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop, his dynamic solo show at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Since then, he has worked diligently to make hip-hop theater more than just a passing phase. He founded the Hip-Hop Theatre Festival, now in its eighth year of presenting a new generation of theater artists in the Bay Area, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Hoch’s native New York.
While Hoch has gone on to create other solo shows — Pot Melting, Some People — he has also dabbled in movies. You’ve seen his tough-guy mug in American Splendor, Blackhawk Down, War of the Worlds and the recent We Own the Night, among others.
The last year was particularly busy for the 37-year-old theater artist. He directed Representa, written by and starring Paul Flores, as part of the San Francisco International Arts Festival. He wrote and directed his first multicharacter play, Til the Break of Dawn, last September, and he’s been developing his latest solo show, Taking Over, now having its world premiere at Berkeley Rep.
“The last few years I’ve been trying to do some different things,” Hoch says from Berkeley on his way to rehearsal. “It’s been a while since I had a new solo show. Had to get talked into it. I did solo shows for such a long time and took them on the road. And it’s just you. It’s lonely, honestly, a lonely experience.”
But now Hoch is back and working with Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone to put the finishing touches on Taking Over, which Hoch workshopped last fall in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
“The work I’ve done the last few years has been fruitful in many ways,” he says. “Now that I’m back on stage, I’m getting my old chops back.”
The new show has been simmering, he says, for 20 years and is based on Hoch’s Brooklyn neighborhood, which has been undergoing a whole lot of changes. Some would call it gentrification.
Hoch says it’s more akin to colonialization. He has a whole, complex theory about how the rich fleeing cities for the suburbs then clamoring to get back into the cities is akin to a Medieval feudal society.
“Why neighborhoods become more expensive and why people from all over the country flock into cities, not for economic reasons but for luxury reasons and for creative and artistic reasons, is complicated and heavy,” Hoch says. “One of the things I like to say is gentrification is an excuse not to say the word `colonialization.’ People think that once a place has been colonized, it can’t be colonized again. But it can — again and again. That’s what’s happening.”
At readings of the play, whether in Berkeley or in the nation’s capital, audiences are responding and sticking around for the post-show discussion.
“Last March in Berkeley, I couldn’t leave the theater because people kept telling me about this happening in Oakland and San Francisco and parts of Berkeley. There’s a major economic and demographic shift happening, and it’s creating movement and displacement — it affects everybody.”
The topic is so relevant, in fact, that Hoch says he’s only telling part of the story.
“It became clear as I was making the show, which is all true, that there’s so much I may have to do Part 2 and Part 3.”
Here are some random Hoch thoughts on his art and his life.
On directing his multi-character play Till the Break of Dawn: “Since I wasn’t performing in it, I thought it would be less work. Ha! It was 50,000 times the work because I was writing and directing, which was not my intention in the first place. Don’t know if I’ll do that again soon. It was not a mistake, but it was just an incredible amount of work and demand on my mental capacity. Then I thought, `Now I can go do a solo show. That’ll be easy.’ Now I’m finding it’s 50,000 times the amount of work of writing and directing. I have a new appreciation for directors and the alleviation of all the pressure not to have to think about certain things.”
On working with director Tony Taccone: “He’s really, really smart and sharp. We yell at each other. We’re just New Yorkers. Yelling is just conversation. We’re old-school New Yorkers.”
On the final result of Til the Break of Dawn: I think I did OK as a director and pretty good as a playwright. Could have done better in both. I’m really hard on myself. I also think that I achieved something pretty amazing. That was proven by the reaction of the incredible audiences that came to the show. Again, I managed to bring a young, diverse audience into a theater that was completely moved and really inspired by the play.”
On the evolution of hip-hop theater: “Hip-hop is such a loaded word, loaded with the wrong cultural references because of mainstream commercial culture. A lot of times, hip-hop theater is perceived by regional or nonprofit or for-profit theater world as a novelty. Or as music. People expect breakdancers to come out. It’s unfortunate because what’s happening in the meantime is that this entire dialogue, this language and canon from the hip-hop generation is being ignored. My fear is that the stories of the hip-hop generation — forget the breakdancers and rappers — is not going to be popular until 500 years from now. That’s unfortunate because these stories are immediate and urgent and necessary. When the stories are embraced, they’re embraced as a novelty or a one-shot deal, not as a movement, a genre or a generational niche or aesthetic. They fill the color slot for the season. Or this is the show to write the grant to get the young audience in. It’s that black and white. It really is.”
On the necessity of researching a play: “No research. I don’t like to read. I carry around a stack of articles, but I didn’t read all of them. They reinforce what I’m already doing.”
On mounting another solo show 10 years after the highly successful Jails, Hospitals & Hip-hop: “Am I 10 years smarter? I’d like to think so. My effectiveness at distilling monologues is a lot faster. It takes less time for me to think about how to distill the many ideas I have for a character into a monologue, which is a good thing. On the downside, it takes a lot longer to memorize the script. And yeah, it’s physically demanding. I don’t remember it being this physically demanding in rehearsal. I remember it in performance and in an eight-show week. But not before the show opens. I’m exhausted.”
Hoch’s Taking Over continues through Feb. 10 on Berkeley Rep’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley. Tickets are $33 to $69. Call 510-647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.
Here’s Hoch reading his 9/11 poem “Corner Talk” on “Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam” on HBO. Language is R-rated, so watch or don’t at your discretion.
Here’s another “Def Poetry Jam” clip, with Hoch defining what hip-hop is (or isn’t) in the poem PSA.
It’s always good news when Danny Hoch announces his return to the Bay Area.
The solo performer behind Jails, Hospitals & Hip-Hop (which had its world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 1997) will be back at Berkeley Rep in March with his latest work-in-progress. As the press release says: “There’s no set, no costumes, no fancy light cues…just Danny and his trademark torrent of words.”
Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone says he’s been trying to get Hoch back to Berkeley for three years. “While he’s here, Danny’s workshopping both a solo show about gentrification in New York City and a new musical about the birth of hip-hop.”
Hoch himself says he’s happy to be heading back to the Bay Area: “The audience has always been very supportive and a great meter with which to gauge whether things are working or not. Plus the food is slammin’!”
Since he was last here, Hoch has written the well-received show Flow, made a movie out of Jails and appeared in movies such as American Splendor, Blackhawk Down, War of the Worlds and the upcoming Lucky You and We Own the Night.
Hoch’s workshop performances are open to the public only four evenings: March 9, 11, 12 1nd 13 at the Gaia Arts Center, 2116 Allston Way, Berkeley. Tickets are $15 general, and high school students with ID get in for $7. Call (510) 647-2949 or visit www.berkeleyrep.org.