Friday, January 18, 2008

'Taking Over' ☼☼☼☼BANG BANG BANG

Kaitlin is the silliest and El Dispatcher the most extraordinary, but of the nine characters Danny Hoch brings to life in the stunning 'Taking Over' at Berkeley Rep, Marian sees it and says it best.

She is an older black lady who has lived her whole life in the same apartment on the same block in Brooklyn's rapidly gentrifying Williamsburg neighborhood. Like many of the other local characters Hoch portrays, Marian has seen it all from her stoop-- the crack epidemic of the '80s, the first white newcomers in the '90s and now the huge influx of people from all over America who are driving her and her friends out of their homes.

Her discovery is frighteningly simple: she and her nonwhite friends have not only become irrelevant, they are now invisible. Marian figures it out when she decides one day to walk into the new pastry shop -- "I do love me some almond croissants" -- and see what all the fuss is about. But no one will take her order. They don't even notice her when, in frustration, she grabs three four dollar pastries and walks out. No one says a word. "Those French people can quiche my ass," Marian says.

Oi, Kaitlin -- if you're from Berkeley she will make you cringe. Kaitlin wears a Nepalese natural fiber cape and sells jewelry and t-shirts on the sidewalk in front of Marian's house. She is clueless to her role in the gentrification process. If it weren't for El Dispatcher, Danny Hoch's spot-on whiney, self-entitled Kaitlin voice would steal the show.

But this guy -- this vato, this coño, this tigre -- nothing you will see on stage this year will leave you as breathless as El Dispatcher. He is the taxi dispatcher for New Brooklyn Cab Company. In his fifteen minute screamingly funny monologue he not only fields calls from all his cab drivers (who appear to be from every Latin American country), his clients calling for cabs, and his wife and children (who are named Ashley and Justin), but he also delivers a scathingly off-color stream-of-consciousness essay which could be called: "A Dominican's View of Every One Who is Not Dominican." Did we mention the whole shmear is delivered in perfectly accented Dominican Spanish? (We see the translation in supertitles above.) Ai, cabron. This Danny Hoch guy is the real deal.

Hoch has made his name in the hip-hop world, and he is founder of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival, but to call Taking Over 'hip-hop' is to call West Side Story 'Puerto Rican.' The show is so good it transcends labels. How about genius, tigre?


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards Danny Hoch's 'Taking Over' as high a rating as can be achieved by a one man show: Four ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ and three BANGS. The first and most important Star is for tackling a real issue -- gentrification and what it means on all sides. Real Estate developer Stuart Guttberg (who is confused because demonstrators keep writing "Stuart Guttberg is an a**h***" on the walls of his new $300 million development) asks the cogent question: Aren't newcomers and boutiques better than crack houses and addicts?

Stars two and three are for performance brilliance, but Star four is for New York City. Wait 'til you hear the artist himself -- as one of the characters -- talk about 9-11. And just in case Danny Hoch didn't do all this by himself, let's give a shout out to director Tony Taccone, who has helped Hoch put the show together over the past few years.

There are too many BANGS to count. Franc the real estate agent gets one, as does Kiko, the ex-con who really needs a job because his mother is watching from the window. Even the exercise ball gets one.

Don't miss 'Taking Over.' A'ight?


"Taking Over"
Berkeley Repertory Company
2025 Addison St., Berkeley
Tue-Sun through Feb. 10 (some days are dark) $33-$69

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Speed The Plow: ☼☼☼ 1/2 BANG L-R-L

In medieval times, one friend might say to another: "God speed your plow," which roughly meant "Good luck, pal," with a touch of "Do good work." But we are hard pressed to find any work at all being done by Bobby Gould or Charlie Fox, the two Hollywood movie studio executives at the heart of David Mamet's 1988 'Speed The Plow," playing at A.C.T. through February 3. Mostly, the two men dance around each other in Gould's office, with the clever Fox attempting to compliment the vapid Gould into giving the green light to Fox's movie project, a move that could...could...make both of their careers.

By 1988 Mamet knew whereof he wrote. He was finishing up his Hollywood phase, having written screenplays for 'The Postman Always Rings Twice,' 'The Untouchables' and 'House of Games,' with the memorable film version of 'Glengarry Glen Ross' still to come. So he knew how to toss out zingers like:

Bobby: "I piss on money."

Charlie: "I know you do, and I'll help you."

Gould (Matthew Del Negro, fresh from his recurring role on The Sopranos as financial advisor Brian Cammarata) is as tall, handsome and successful as Fox (Andrew Polk) is short, fat and desperate. So the relationship of the two long time friends is ripe to be tested -- cue (Hollywood vamp music, please) the beautiful Karen.

Played rather quietly by Jessi Campbell (remember, on stage in New York this role was played by Madonna!), Karen is determined to have her way with Bobby, which she most certainly does. As Act One ends, she opens her arms, looks into Bobby's eyes and cries: "What if you prayed to be pure and your prayers were answered? Well, here I am."

Act Two takes a most appreciated twist. Let's just say the two men are smiling and smoking cigars at the end, but it ain't no Hollywood Happy Ending.


Mamet never disappoints. There is even a special Mamet Category: Squirms. Speed The Plow is a Three Squirmer: Left-Right-Left. One Star for that. Another goes out to Andrew Polk and another to Matthew del Negro -- Polk earns his for the way he lounges in Bobby's chair at the end of Act Two, after an hour and a half of barely disguised hostility. It's a masterful job. Del Negro just says his lines, but that's all he's supposed to do. He shares his star with director Loretta Greco for allowing him the luxury of not overacting. A half star and a smile for Sound Designer Jake Rodriguez, whose wonderful faux-Hollywood sitcom music fills up all the holes. A Special Bang is awarded for Charlie's comment to Karen: "Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair: it's full of surprises, and you're constantly getting f***ed."

"Speed The Plow"
American Conservatory Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Tue-Sun through Feb. 3. $17-$82