Review: 'Taking Over' vividly explores a changing neighborhood

It’s not quite a beautiful day in Danny Hoch’s neighborhood, but it’s certainly fascinating, and often riveting.

Hoch is the one-man band behind “Taking Over,” a 100-minute solo show enjoying an extended run at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Playing the part of nine characters whose lives are being affected — and who are affecting change — in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, Hoch follows in the illustrious footsteps of Berkeley Rep veterans Anna Devere Smith and Sarah Jones. These performers enlighten and reveal complex truths by exemplifying, rather than describing, contrasting viewpoints and matters of the heart in a constantly changing world.

In Hoch’s universe, each character is as vivid as the next. He opens with Robert, a talkative grad student who is a master of ceremonies of sorts at a community event.

Francque, who’s next, clearly isn’t an old-timer in the area. The sassy French real estate agent gleefully seems to be doing an excellent job selling high-priced condos with a view — the kind that people who have lived in the neighborhood never could afford.

Marion is possibly the most heart-warming of the bunch. Sitting on the stoop of her residence, she hollers greetings and sweet warnings to kids playing in the street, while offering up some conflicted feelings about the new bakery where the current cost of pastries is something she wouldn’t have imagined in her dreams.

Kiko, in turn, is an ex-con with a heartbreaking tale. In an attempt to earn just a little bit of respect, he practically begs the crew on a movie being filmed in the area for any kind of work, even unpaid.

High-strung Stuart is a feisty developer who believes that by peripherally involving some longtime area residents in the process of building, the ultimate result is positive — never mind the fact people will necessarily be pushed out of their homes.

El Dispacher is a Spanish-speaking cab dispatcher who clearly has his pulse on the rhythm of the streets, while groovy, well-meaning Kaitlin is the character to whom many Berkeley Rep patrons likely relate best. Wearing a knit-cap, selling wares on the street, the young middle-class woman is a hoot, as, in her singsong voice, she tells the story of her journey to neighborhood — which is becoming less romantically gritty.

Launch Missiles Critical is a rapper who gathers a following as he espouses his politics at the local club.

The last “new” character presented is Danny, a theatrical performer with roller coaster feelings about his life and home. It’s here that Hoch falters slightly, in that Danny’s story doesn’t quite pack a whopping, cumulative emotional punch, given the depth of the multitude of characters who have preceded him.

It’s a small point, really, for Danny and the people whose lives he captures — brilliantly, with limited costume changes — are a vivid reflection of the confounding yet exhilarating human condition.

IF YOU GO

Taking Over

Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

When: Various times Tuesdays through Sundays; closes Feb. 24

Tickets: $13.50 to $69

Contact: (510) 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org  

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