New play performed on a Flatbush terrace explores the unseen effects of gentrification

Charlie Hurtt and Siercia O’Brien in “terrace play.”
Elizabeth Irwin

A new play performed on a terrace in Flatbush will tackle themes of neighborhood histories and gentrification in an ultra-intimate setting, which is itself a main part of the plot. 

“Terrace Play” (stylized as “terrace play”) from director and playwright Elizabeth Irwin, whose terrace it is performed on, follows the stories of two young people on the terrace of the well-to-do family they work for in present-day Brooklyn, contrasted with the story of two high schoolers in Flatbush in 2011 on the roof of the same building before it was turned into higher-end apartments.

Actors Charlie Hurtt and Siercia O’Brien will take on the starring roles of the script, playing both the residents of yesteryear, as well as the upper-middle class residents representing the post-gentrified neighborhood. 

Irwin said she wanted to do more than just perform the play on a terrace, and that it was important to her to have the setting be meaningful. 

“I don’t want this to just be a play on a terrace,” she said. “I want there to be a reason why whatever is going to happen would take place on a terrace.” 

When she first started planning the play, Irwin researched her building on Parkside Avenue near Flatbush Avenue, and found that it was once home to a barbershop, Nelson’s Barbershop, before it was redeveloped. Irwin eventually tracked down Nelson Urraca, the former owner of the barbershop who still cuts hair in Flatbush and interviewed him along with other Flatbush residents as part of the research process. Urraca ended up attending the play as well. 

“It’s pretty vital, whoever you’re writing about to actually talk to them,” she said. “I don’t ever want to write a story about anyone and not honor the truth about it.” 

Irwin’s research led her to the second act of the play, which follows high school students Omario and Megan while they hang out on the roof of the building in 2011, which at the time was above Nelson’s Barbershop, where Omario works sweeping hair on the weekends. 

Omario sees Nelson’s as a sanctuary from the everyday strife of living in Flatbush — a sanctuary that no longer exists in the present day. Irwin said she was interested in exploring the less tangible things like this that are lost during gentrification. 

“One of the things that I was interested in focusing on is the less tangible ways to measure what happens when places disappear,” she said. “It’s more common to hear about ‘well, this building got knocked down and this affordable housing was lost and now we have this high rise.’ That’s kind of the standard way we look at it but I was interested in the idea of the less tangible ways that things get lost.”

Irwin said she worked to promote the play among locals, and it’s been important for her to be able to tell a story about Flatbush actually within Flatbush. 

“Stories of Brooklyn, or any place, we might see those stories in a theater in Midtown, or they’ll bring theater to the outer boroughs, but what’s been really lovely has been doing a play in a neighborhood, about a neighborhood, and getting people from the neighborhood to come,” she said.

“Terrace Play” runs through Nov. 7, tickets are available here.