You may ask yourself: “Self, what does a play about a real estate dispute in Brooklyn have to do with me, here, in Boston?” It has a lot to do with you, actually. We’ve had our fair share of skirmishes over neighborhood ownership; just look at the turf war between Allston and Harvard University, or the aborted move of the Patriots’ stadium to South Boston.
But documentary play/musical In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards connects on an even deeper level than that. New York-based troupe the Civilians is interested in getting to the root of what home really means in the age of urbanization and gentrification. “You’re only entitled to the space that you have / You’re not entitled to the space that’s around you,” a character sings at one point, and it’s a concept that’s at the heart of this lo-fi, high-impact show.
For the uninitiated, Atlantic Yards is an uber-contentious real estate project that requires the leveling of a huge chunk of Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights neighborhood. It’s all to make way for a massive development that includes a new basketball stadium for the New Jersey Nets, buildings designed by Frank Gehry and a whole mess of high-rises. Though it was proposed in 2003, ground wasn’t broken until last year.
The delay has a lot do with economic troubles, but much more to do with the fight put up by the residents of the existing neighborhood. The Civilians spent an impressive two years interviewing people on both sides for In the Footprint. The result is a complex collection of Laramie Project-style monologues and dialogues from residents, politicians and activists—with a few musical numbers in between.
It’s a powerful, multifaceted portrait that includes passionate speeches, hopeless admissions and tense arguments from rich and poor Brooklynites alike, all portrayed by six talented and hard-working actors. They’re all in the shadow of “the footprint,” a nifty image that evokes both the outline of the development and the encroaching boot of some lumbering, home-toppling giant.
When theater is wielded in this way, it’s a powerful tool. In the Footprint is the kind of sociopolitical drama that’s entertaining enough to keep you interested, but smart and provocative enough to make sure you’ll be talking about it long after the proverbial curtain has fallen.