Ideals aside, we all know we’re puppets of forces much larger than our little selves. So it’s comforting, when Big Money rips a big hole in Brooklyn, to see docu-theater troupe The Civillans rush in like avenging macrophages, to fill the bleeding void with smart art. In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards is a thoughtful, head-and-heart history of the mostly-disastrous Nets stadium development project, and the latest work of Civilians artistic director Steve Cosson, co-writer Jocelyn Clarke, and composer-adjutant Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, This Beautiful City).
Deploying their time-tested techniques–i.e. performing in spoken-word, scene and song the unexpurgated text of interviews conducted by company members with a wide variety of citizens, civil servants and partisans on all sides–the Civs sort through the fallout from the largest eminent domain seizure (and mass relocation of city residents) since the Robert Moses era: The half-shadowy, half-hapless, distinctly Iraq-era push to bring the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn and restore “dignity” to a borough that’s been scoreless since the Dodgers bounced in 57. (Oh, and plus: Condos!)
Footprint is social theater at its querulous best, picking up the significant slack left by a vitiated journalism. (At one point, BK’s bloggers form a literal Greek chorus: All of them clad in bathrobes.) Switching roles and accents at a dizzying clip, the company forms a kind of collective Brooklyn Oversoul. Ratner, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg come off the villains of the piece (they’re played by a backhoe, a basketball, and an empty suit, respectively, if not respectfully), but there’s precious little demonizing going on here. The Atlantic Yards debate was and is monstrously complex, turning black political leaders against black community coordinators, white liberals against progressive city fathers, and made unlikely bedfellows of ACORN, Jay-Z and Frank Gehry. (The entire ensemble is uniformly sensational, but look for Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Bertha Lewis, the pro-stadium ACORN chieftain who becomes a sort of tragic hero over the course of the evening.) In the Footprint leaves you not with a rant or a slogan, but with a wistful riddle of urban living, set to Friedman’s sad and simple pop: “You are only entitled to the space that you have / You are not entitled to the space that’s all around you.”
In the Footprint is playing at Irondale Center in Fort Greene through December 11.