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for The Brooklyn Paper
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Like Plato’s famous river, neighborhoods in Brooklyn seem to change so suddenly that when you come back to them, they are never quite the same. In Brooklyn we have DUMBO, Williamsburg and Carroll Gardens as exemplary proof of how neighborhoods can become "hip" almost overnight.

Mari Brown and Deanna Pacelli, two Carroll Gardens residents, have been working hard over the past two-and-a-half years documenting the changes there. They’ve conducted more than 50 interviews with long-time residents and young professionals, mom-and-pop store owners and new restaurateurs. The result is "There Goes the Neighborhood," a one-woman show written by Brown and performed by Pacelli, who plays nine neighborhood characters. The hour-long piece is being performed as a series of workshops through Oct. 12 at Bar Below, at 209 Smith St.

For Brown, "There Goes the Neighborhood" is a work of more than a little brilliance. For Pacelli, it is a tour de force requiring both creativity and stamina. With nothing more than a cigarette (teenaged girl from the neighborhood), a wineglass (young woman transplanted from Long Island), a pair of oversized eyeglasses ("middle-aged white chick") a baseball cap (Italian owner of a 100-year-old pork shop) and same baseball cap turned backwards (newly arrived Chinese restaurant owner), Pacelli creates individuals who are both poignantly unique and hilariously familiar.

Sometimes Pacelli achieves the same effect by merely crossing her legs and holding her hands in a certain manner (a gay designer, an old Puerto Rican man). She’s also an expert at accents and speech patterns (African-American, Puerto Rican, Italian-American, Long Islander). And only occasionally is it difficult to tell whether she’s playing a man or a woman.

Brown’s dialogue reflects a startling ability to capture vernacular speech with all its most subtle nuances. She uses a nice trick of having the characters answer or disagree with each other using almost the same words. And Pacelli supplies the perfect gesture and tone.

The intimate, cabaret-like atmosphere of Bar Below helps a lot, too.

The unifying thread that ties the characters together and to Brown’s theme is the character of DJ Transforma, who appears intermittently throughout the hour-long show, and in the end, supplies the philosophical framework on which the show rests.

One of the most interesting aspects of "There Goes the Neighborhood" is Brown’s refusal to take sides in the controversy surrounding gentrification. The owner of the pork shop is clearly skeptical of its benefits. The girl who has lived in Carroll Gardens all her life finds it exciting. The Chinese restaurateur is exuberant over the possibilities. An old Puerto Rican man seems mostly confused.

What all these people have in common, however, is their passion for the neighborhood - whether they remember it as traditional and close-knit, resent it for its narrow-minded bigotry or respect it for the changes that are making it more compatible with their lifestyles.

It took lots of outreach to write "There Goes the Neighborhood." One pictures Brown and Pacelli nodding sympathetically and taking notes. This same ability to listen and learn prevails during the workshop phase of production.

Pacelli and Brown host talk-back dialogues after every performance and encourage suggestions and criticisms. So if you’d like a chance to make your artistic opinion go further than your spouse or best friend, don’t miss "There Goes the Neighborhood." You’ll also have a great time.

 

Word on the Street Productions presents "There Goes the Neighborhood" through Nov. 2, Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $8 and include a free beer. Bar Below is located beneath Faan restaurant, at 209 Smith St. at Baltic Street in Boerum Hill. For more information, call (917) 873-1432 or e-mail wordonthestreet2003@hotmail.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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