Arts Listings

The Theater: Hoch’s ‘Taking Over’ at the Berkeley Rep

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Tuesday January 22, 2008

As the swipe of hip-hop shifts gears into salsa, solo performer Danny Hoch stalks out on stage in character, under a banner for a festival, Williamsburg “Celebrate Your Community” day, spouting long, loopy lines in thick, nasal Brooklynese, cutting his imaginary friends out where the audience sits before the Berkeley Rep Thrust Stage, doing the dozens on down through the ethnicities—then the 49 other states, working hard on California—then shouting out, “All you American crackers, out of our neighborhood!” 

One hand jamming a mic up to his constantly moving lips, the other gesturing in big curves while dandling a beer bottle—“Everybody’s had a drink; I’m not the only one!”—his passive-aggressive, half threatening, half-apologetic diatribe burns with invective. He catches himself: “I cursed! Kids around here; I’m sorry ... I ain’t gonna hurt nobody. I’m a grad student. An Intellectual!” But continues to deliver the anti-gentrification message: “We survived the crack epidemic! Ronald Reagan was nicer to you than to us ... I can’t walk around like I’m floating on a French pastry, all carefree ...” 

And that sets the tone, the stage and the levels for Taking Over, Hoch’s parade of homeboys, homebodies and upscale interlopers, as the Big Apple sprawls over into Brooklyn, and property values soar, with fake French patisseries (just like in Tokyo—or Berkeley) flying in on the coattails. 

Hoch’s act consists of clever impersonations of a Parisian real estate salesman, working the dot-com homeseekers while urging a colleague across the pond to hurry over and buy! buy! buy! (subtitles provided); a revolutionary rapper in camoflage, declaring “We asked for better schools and they give us muffins! This’s unacceptable! Check it out!”; a dispatcher from the Dominican Republic working over his “hick” fellow Latino drivers over the radio: “I can take orders, that’s why I’m a dispatcher!”—then coos to his little girl in English; a yoga-ing developer asserting, “I love people! I should win the Nobel Prize for real estate!”; a middle-aged black mother remarking how she’s invisible to her new neighbors in line at the cafe to buy a $4 almond croissant. 

Some of the faces and voices announce themselves to be the children and grandchildren of Ralph Kramden. Others are from the next block over, another ethnic enclave, the settlement of whatever group Scorsese portrayed in Mean Streets—the real “Last Exit to,” the authentic “Only the Dead Know” Brooklyn. Hoch picks up on that territory, in those neighborhoods, as outsiders move in and stake claim to being locals, like the seraped, Andean-capped art school dropout from Michigan he plays, sitting on the sidewalk selling t-shirts and CDs, spouting in full Universal Valley Girl, “Who the hell wants to stay where they’re from?” 

The New American Dream of make-overs and meta-language sports a professional incomprehension to the sort of recalcitrance—or just recidivism—Hoch portrays. But it’s nothing new. A good deal of modern art begins with handwringing and gratuitous nostalgia over neighborhoods redeveloped and lost. The glories of childhood fled, a Romantic credo, got updated by the likes of Baudelaire, in poems like “The Swan,” contemplating the Second Empire streamlining of the French capital (in part to dislodge hotbeds of working class revolution):“Paris changes! but nothing in my melancholy has budged!”  

Hoch finally comes around to his own spiel, standing before a music stand and reciting his text, “coming clean” (like any real pro, a magician rolling up his sleeve) that he can’t perform his schtick at home, but makes his living any and everywhere else as “an exotic New Yorker ... You think I come here to take a walk in the hills? Or because Chez Panisse is really that good?” 

His act goes full circle. The drunk persona he started out with delivers the valediction, evoking 9/11 across the river, recalling when he spots an ex-girlfriend in the crowd “when the bodega started stocking soy milk, but not because you like it and we asked for it.” 

An accumulation of sketches, impressions of “types” and their accents and mannerisms, at times it seems like Central Casting gone wild. It’s a play on recognition, much of it from the movies and TV. Hoch is never cleverer or more apropo than when he portrays a neighborhood Latino just out of the joint, chumming up to a film crew p.a. for a job, any job:”I’ll do it for free—see, my mother’s watching from the window!”. 

Whatever the local equivalent of Hoch’s Brooklyn is, it couldn’t be rendered as a quick sketch. Bay Area solo acts that summon up past history and local types have to become full-fledged narratives or plays, no monologist’s dream witness Ron Jones or Brian Copeland. If someone did a routine onstage in a Bay Area idiom, they’d have to explain it first. “Back East, we got accents!” So “the Mission Mumble” in San Francisco gets pegged as Brooklynese. Small wonder, in a town where the most famous “local” of the postwar decades based his newspaper columnist’s persona over 40 years on being the New Kid in Town. 




Through Feb. 10 at the Berkeley Rep 

2025 Addison St. 647-2949.