Those Who Fight Back Get Trampled in In the Footprint

11/23/2010 4:00 AM |

In the Footprint

Written and Directed by Steve Cosson

Music and Lyrics by Michael Friedman

In the Footprint is necessary viewing for every Brooklynite and, really, every American—it's a Times-hating, Markowitz-trashing People's History of the Atlantic Yards Project that lays out, in plain and often emotional terms, a decade of corruption, activism and David-and-Goliath loggerheads. Structured as vignettes punctuated with musical numbers, this patchworked political vaudeville is relevant in a way that theater rarely is; it feels not only of the general moment but current up-to-the-second, as if revisions are made every night based on refreshed RSS feeds. The show digs into the ongoing development of Prospect Heights' prime-real-estate rail yards (and the surrounding blocks) from every conceivable angle—from barbershop banter to an open letter by Jonathan Lethem—addressing gentrification, racial tension, class divisions, democratic process, the mechanisms of capital investment, and more. Banks' "red lines" are explained. So is ULURP—in song! It's stirring, rousing and overwhelming: it makes you want to chain yourself to a fence, lie down in front of a crane, spit in Marty Markowitz's face, or bury your head in your hands and cry.

Six terrific actors each play multiple characters: some, public figures (Daniel Goldstein, Patti Hagan, Letitia James); others, anonymous folks affected by the project. (The marquee villains receive only vocal impersonations: the boo-hiss borough president—a crucial advocate for the project—is portrayed by a basketball; Bruce Ratner, the sinister developer, by a toy truck.) The show, performed in Fort Greene, a five-minute walk from the development site, was brought to life by local theater company The Civilians, whose artistic director, Steve Cosson, also wrote the script, basing it on numerous interviews with real people whom the actors then embody. In the Footprint restores humanity to the project's displaced and forgotten; in one of most moving scenes, activist Patti Hagan (Colleen Werthmann) narrates a slideshow that introduces real residents and shop owners and explains how they lost their businesses or were evicted from their homes—which, in some cases, had been in their families for generations.

The show tackles basic American values: it's about ordinary people fighting to preserve their homes and the thuggish capitalism that negates the democratic ideals we profess as a country to hold dear. (The sparsely used songs by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson's Michael Friedman are usually civic-minded, explaining bureaucratic or socioeconomic issues in a vernacular style, adopting tricky rhythms and non-singsong lyrics while maintaining a catchy charm.) The show's smart enough not to embrace a too-simplistic moral binary of developer vs. everyman—the righteous heroism of Hagan and Goldstein, for example, is called into question in a late scene. But, in the end, In the Footprint creates a damning and cynical portrait of Brooklyn-New York politics that feels easily extendable to represent all of America. The fate of 900 people stands in for the fate of a community, of a county, of a city, of a country—where the interests of the wealthy steamroll those of the working-class, and those fighting back are as fucked as those already trampled.

(photo credit: Carol Rosegg)