My original Valentine’s Day plan was to make DB, the boyfriend, brunch and then walk to the Kirk Douglas Theater in Downtown Culver City (DCC) for the matinee showing of Danny Hoch’s Taking Over. I’ve lived just a few minutes away from DCC since 2000 in
Palms South Robertson*.
Walking over to the Kirk Douglas didn’t work out. I was wearing heels and a dress. More importantly, we were running a little late.
I had DB drop me off and park in one of the relatively new parking structures along Washington Boulevard. Even though I’ve lived here for 8+ years, I only recently started spending any significant time in DCC. Previously, there was nothing to do after 5 pm and a dearth of any other sorts of entertainment. That’s all slowly been changing. The Kirk Douglas Theater playbill describes the “revitalization” (aka gentrification) of DCC in recent years. In a small area you can find several architecture firms, art galleries, a couple of theaters, and several restaurants. On Tuesdays, local growers set up a farmer’s market. If you go during a weekend night, you’ll find the 5 or so blocks between the Trader Joe’s and Kirk Douglas Theater quite busy. Now, I regularly shop at Trader Joe’s, buy fruit and vegetables at the farmer’s market, watch movies at the Pacific Theater and eat at some of the restaurants. I’d never gone to a production at the Kirk Douglas until last week. Still, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the only reason I’m watching Danny Hoch in Culver City is due to the recent
revitalization gentrification of the area.
I first heard of Hoch through Kris Diaz, a dramaturg who has participated in Hoch’s Hip Hop Theater Festival. When I asked Kris if it mattered if I sat in the cheaper seats at the back of the theater or up close, he insisted that I sit up close. Kris also set me up with high expectations:
So maybe I’m a little biased, but I think that his new play Taking Over is one of the best pieces of theater I have ever seen. It does exactly what great hip-hop theater should be doing in this day and age: combining worlds, making disparate ideas and styles and cultures meet to form something new and powerful. It’s personal and it’s political. It’s hilarious and completely serious. It’s a relatively even-handed study of gentrification that still manages to take a strong point of view and stick to it wholeheartedly. I love this play. You need to go see it.
I wasn’t let down. Although Browne and Chimatli checked out an evening show, it seems like the audience didn’t differ much. There seemed to be too many elderly folks for a play targeted to a younger crowd. In fact, I saw an elderly man a few rows behind me nodding off. The boyfriend and I were some of the only ones laughing during the more polemical characters. Everyone seemed to love Marion, the middle-aged woman who loved her almond croissants. She was funny and less threatening. She could be invisible around the young, white hipsters. But the audience cringed during Robert and Launch Missiles Criticals’ rants.
My favorite characters were Kiko, an ex-con, trying to do right and the Dominican dispatcher. Kiko and the dispatcher were the only characters speaking one-on-one with the gentrifiers. Both characters showed the indignity and pain people of color face as they interact with the gentrifiers and simply try to make a living. What’s more striking is how people like Kris and myself see the interaction between Kiko and the PA.
As for criticism: I wish Hoch would have read an appreciative letter from someone who lived in Williamsburg 20 years ago and was pushed out. Yes, I know we heard an amalgamation of their voices throughout the play. However, I don’t need to hear more from the hipsters. I hear enough from them. I want to hear from the people of color.
* I was set straight by the LA Times’ mapping project.