"The most maddening thing about gentrification is its very duality, the way in which it simultaneously delivers pleasure and pain, miraculous benefits, and terrible consequences," David Zahniser wrote in a perceptive, panoramic 2006 article about gentrification for LA Weekly. The trouble with Taking Over is its tunnel vision. As Zahniser points out, urban development is not a black and white issue, but Hoch more or less paints his show in zebra stripes. The play completely ignores any of the positive outcomes associated with the renaissance of formerly blighted neighborhoods, such as increased jobs, more green spaces, and safer sidewalks. Hoch practically sneers at the idea of public safety and holds a bizarre nostalgia for the sight of crack addicts with knife wounds in their necks. He spends too much time kvetching about the viral spread of organic muffins, baby stores, and $1.7 million condos with their own city-approved water-taxi stops, and too little time coming up with a convincing solution to what he perceives as the ills associated with changing neighborhood dynamics.
I don't often disagree with playwrights' viewpoints (as my column two weeks ago stated, the theater is largely by lefties for lefties right now). But in this case, I came away inspired to examine my own beliefs about what constitutes a community. Unfortunately, though, my thoughts were interrupted when I suddenly remembered recently seeing Hoch dining at downtown Oakland's newest, swankiest restaurant, Flora (a converted flower market serving $16 cheeseburgers and cocktails made with fresh grapefruit juice and elderflower). The memory not only threw the performer's antigentrification message into sharp relief, but it also made me smile.