To the reams of paper, scores of legal proceedings, hours of hearings and years of anger over Atlantic Yards, you can now add one more thing: an unsuccessful theater production.
“In the Footprint,” a new play by the Fort Greene–based Civilians company, takes one of the most important stories in the history of Brooklyn — the battle over the $4-billion mega-development and basketball arena — and turns it into a series of strident monologues that will leave uninformed theatergoers with more questions about the project than answers.
And it will definitely leave opponents scratching their heads over the “betrayal” by the theater company.
The central problem is the format: The entire play is based on interviews with key figures in the “drama,” such as activists like Patti Hagan and Daniel Goldstein, politicos including Councilwoman Letitia James, project supporters including James Caldwell and Bertha Lewis and some of the 800 residents of the footprint that gives the play its name.
Don’t know any of those people? Then good luck appreciating a play whose main point seems to be that the greatest tragedy in the entire saga was that the city’s uniform land-use review procedure was superseded.
Yes, there’s a song about ULURP, too.
That said, there are some worthy moments in the production. The racial undercurrent of the project is very well dramatized, as the mostly black supporters of the project gain the higher ground against the mostly white newcomers who claimed that “the community” — which community? Theirs, of course — opposed the project. Yet the same plotline also reveals the race game that Ratner himself played, racking up black support with a promise of pro basketball while urging his supporters to pay no attention to the large luxury development behind the curtain.
Given the trials and tribulations that Lewis’s ACORN has undergone over the past two years, it’s surprising that Donnetta Lavinia Grays’s take on the widely discredited Lewis is so effective at balancing what could have easily been a knee-jerk, anti-Yards play. But Grays’s effective monologue is one of the few truly dramatic moments in the entire 90-minute affair, which instead plays out like a series of one-sided arguments.
Arguments, in fact, that end up leaning noticeably towards the pro-Yards side, as the portrayal of Lewis and Caldwell combine into a completely rational case in favor of the project as a job creator and economic development tool. Meanwhile, Colleen Werthmann’s portrayal of Hagan turns a proud fighter into a collection of ticks, twitches and irrationality.
In the end, though, few comic moments — Borough President Markowitz, for example, is represented by a Yards-shilling basketball — are fun, but don’t fix the main problem here: Too much yelling, too much legal jargon, too much dictionary definitions of “redlining” and “eminent domain” and not enough story.
This review was based on an early performance before official critics preview began. Official opening night is Nov. 22.
“In the Footprint” at the Irondale Center [85 S. Oxford St. between Lafayette and Fulton avenues in Fort Greene, (718) 488-9233], through Dec. 11. Tickets, $35. For info, visit www.thecivilians.org.