Yards drama will delight Ratner, appall opponents and confuse everyone else

The Brooklyn Paper
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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seems to be that the greatest tragedy in the entire saga was that the city’s uniform land-use review procedure was superseded.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

Updated 5:21 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Norman Oder says:
This online review, oddly enough, expands the print review with a couple of paragraphs claiming that the play will leave project opponents "appalled."

That wasn't my observation after talking to several opponents after the play.

Moreover, the "Butcher's" conclusion that Lewis and Caldwell make a "completely rational case" is simply laughable.

The play has its flaws, notably the effort to pack seven years of controversy into a one-act play lasting 95 minutes.

But the play, while (I submit) ultimately critical of the project, ultimately invites ambiguity and discussion, given the opportunity for various characters to make their self-serving cases.

More observations here:
Nov. 19, 2010, 6:25 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
this play sounds like torture.
Nov. 19, 2010, 10:55 am
RLewis from Bowery says:
You reviewed the play already, and it isn't even open yet??? Shame.
Nov. 19, 2010, 11:10 am
Improved Prospect from Prospect Heights says:
I don't understand the headline or the second paragraph from the last either. Maybe the Brooklyn Paper is trying to lull project supporters into going to the play in order to expose them to the arguments against the project one more time?

I thought the production successfully balanced the rational and emotional arguments against the project with the pretty much strictly emotional arguments for.

Obviously it is a different experience for those who followed the Atlantic Yards saga closely to see the play than for an uninformed viewer who may be unduly swayed by the warmth of a portrayal than the facts the play mostly puts on the table. Frankly I think the play tended to support the arguments of the project opponents rather than the other way around. And I was entertained.

It is almost too much to expect from a production that it put the claims of job production and affordable housing creation in context -- that's the job of good reporting. There is a direct relationship between the value to the public of the affordable housing and jobs created and the timetable of their delivery. And we know now there has never been a real timetable for the delivery of the jobs or affordable housing -- the ten year timetable was always a lie! The promises Caldwell and Lewis make in the play and in real life have always had far less, (if any), value than they seem.

Imagine how many jobs could be created by directing the continuing subsidies to the project just to create jobs or housing rather than creating an arena and locking in property for Forest City Ratner. As of a few weeks ago the project had apparently created approximately 50 jobs for the community. And the number of affordable units with financing? 0.

In some ways the problem with the production is only that the characters and real life story are so rich it is hard for a play to match real life without seeming to tip into caricature. Also, the Atlantic Yards story is going to keep unfolding. I suggest "In the Footprint" become an ongoing TV series instead. Perhaps a cross of the Wire and Glee?
Nov. 19, 2010, 11:46 am
Improved Prospect from Prospect Heights says:
Before someone corrects me: there are currently approximately 50 community members with jobs on site, and the site is the most active it has been. There has been additional community employment over the years, but the total is nowhere near what was promised to date.
Nov. 19, 2010, 11:54 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Although I have yet to see the play, I don't expect everything to be completely accurate. Everyone knows that something will always have different perspectives be it in books, movies, or plays. If they were all the same, the audience would want to leave before it even ends, so something has to be put to make it exciting. I do tend to see the play mainly because I missed it the first time, so this gives me a second chance to make up for it. I think those that claim that the play is just another biased story should look at what Bruce Ratner and his cronies are feeding them first before they go out criticizing others.
Nov. 19, 2010, 3:19 pm
butcher from dumbo says:
whatchu talkin' about Gersh?!
Nov. 19, 2010, 11:12 pm
jimmy from prospect heights says:
sounds like a poorly-conceived, amateurish work. as always, norman oder provides a link to his blog that no one will ever understand (let alone read). i will be sure to avoid this so-called "play".
Nov. 20, 2010, 12:23 am
Rebecca from Boerum Hill says:
I saw this on Saturday, and I thought it was really great---I've been recommending it to all the neighbors. I moved here in September from CA, and didn't know anything at all about the controversy---and I found the show not only easy to follow, but entertaining, engaging, informative, and very well constructed. I would agree that as an "uninformed theatergoer" it did leave me with more questions than answers, but they were the right kinds of questions---what actually does make for sustainable development? What can newcomers like me do to mitigate the effects of gentrification? Really, what kind of reviewer would go to this kind of thing looking for answers? The show is completely irreverent---they are basically skewering everybody, and I assume that that is what rubbed this reviewer the wrong way. But contrary to what this review argues, the play definitely comes down on the anti-Ratner side of things---it just doesn't come out in support of any one position---there is no voice of reason here. Anybody with a stake in this controversy who wants to see his or her position completely vindicated will be disappointed and perhaps made a little uncomfortable. But anybody with an open mind and an interest in the issues will probably find it as worthwhile and enjoyable as I did.
Nov. 22, 2010, 11:52 am
Norman Oder says:
Here's a round-up of other reviews. The Brooklyn Paper's review is not the consensus:
Nov. 25, 2010, 5:57 am

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