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March 25, 2008


Berkeley meets Hip-Hop Hoch

Danny Hoch. Founder and director of the Hip-Hop Theater Festival. Centerpiece of Jails, Hospitals, and Hip-Hop. Man of a thousand voices and a thousand personae.

For about six weeks beginning in mid-January, Danny Hoch’s one-man performance of Taking Over inhabited the Thrust Stage of Berkeley Rep, introducing predominately white, middle-class audiences to an assortment of New Yorkers — more precisely, the assorted denizens of Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood that is being gentrified across the East River from Manhattan. (In a bizarre juxtaposition of one-person performances, Carrie Fisher has been putting on Wishful Drinking in the Roda Theatre next door.)

Hoch leaves a small footprint: minimal props, a couple of slides projected as background, and a few jackets and shirts slung over a black T-shirt and pants to suggest the different characters. It’s what you don’t see that matters. The air is thick with words, with real people’s words, the spoken words that identify them and set them off from members of other groups. By their words ye shall know them. They sizzle, lilt, rap, croon, giggle, punch, and plead.

Hoch offers no solutions. He merely brings to life the many faces of a complex problem, with all their warts and freckles and wrinkles. Maybe that’s enough. For once, the measured tones of CNN and the whirling dervish spins of Dana Perino have been silenced.

In fact, there don’t seem to be any clear solutions. The sense of community that the rapidly departing Latinos share was created in part by the shootings and drug deals they survived, in a time they would not like to relive. The person with the clearest understanding of the whole situation is Stuart, the real estate developer, who works the system for his own profit.

If there is a villain, it’s no-holds-barred capitalism, with its blind pursuit of the bottom line. If there is a mantra it’s this: We asked for better schools, and we got muffins.

       Copyright Betsey Culp 2008