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Online, expanded Brooklyn Paper review of "In the Footprint" claims show "betrays" project opponents and will "delight" developer Bruce Ratner. Nah.

A funny thing happened to the review of IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, as it appeared in three Community Newspaper Group outlets this week.

It got brutally weird, morphing from a general criticism to an unfounded assertion that the show "betrays" project opponents and will "delight" developer Bruce Ratner.

The initial review, my response

On Graphic, the review was headlined The drama of Atlantic Yards: "In the Footprint" retells a story best left to the historians, not the playwrights.

(The review was attributed to "The Butcher of Flatbush Avenue Extension," , almost certainly, Brooklyn Paper Editor Gersh Kuntzman, who was at the show I saw. Update: Kuntzman claims a byline in the Courier-Life print edition, where the above review is reproduced.)

In this week's print Brooklyn Paper, that review reappears under a different headline: Yards on center stage: Mega-development is subject of play at Irondale Center.

That review calls it "an unsuccessful theater production," an assessment which I countered in my own review, which considers the show a mixed bag, given the attempt to pack seven years into 95 minutes, but absorbing and certainly provoking discussion.

The review morphs

The Brooklyn Paper's online review, however, contains a far more pointed headline, Yards drama will delight Ratner, appall opponents and confuse everyone else, and two additional paragraphs.

First, after talking to a half-dozen "opponents" after the show, I found no one "appalled." Like me, they thought it was worth seeing but a mixed bag.

Second, there's no way Bruce Ratner would be delighted by a show that portrays him as speaking through a toy crane--essentially a heartless piece of earth-moving equipment--or his ally, Borough President Marty Markowitz, as speaking through a basketball.

The "betrayal"?

Given more space online, Kuntzman adds two paragraphs to bolster his argument. Given that they significantly shift the tone and conclusion of his review, it's curious that he didn't make sure they shaped the earlier versions.

Up top, he claims:
And it will definitely leave opponents scratching their heads over the “betrayal” by the theater company.
As noted above, no one with whom I spoke thought the play was a "betrayal."

The "pro-Yards" arguments

Kuntzman's main case is here:
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 [sic], twitches and irrationality.
Well, let's put aside the substitution of the word "tics" with "ticks," as well as the presentation of a photo of the Urban Bush Women, who "provide the dance" for the show, according to the online article. (Actually, the Urban Bush Women appeared only in the 2008 precursor show, Brooklyn at Eye Level. Update Nov. 21: that photo has been removed.)

Kuntzman is simply drinking MetroTech Kool-Aid--remember, the Brooklyn Paper is a tenant of Forest City Ratner--to conclude that Lewis and Caldwell come off as "completely rational," while the portrait of Hagan exudes "irrationality."

Looking more closely

They all come off as people with their own agendas, assertions, and facts--and one of the inherent flaws of the play (and any play) is it leaves those things hanging rather than comes to a conclusion.

In my review, I summarized an debate recreated onstage:
“But the important thing was we was at the table,” utters Caldwell, in his ungrammatical cadence, a product of the South.

“BUILD? It’s – it’s just a farce!” declares Hagan, who adds, “Ratner’s approach is to divide and conquer.”

“They’ve done nothing for this neighborhood,” counters Lewis, using that magic, ambiguous word.
Completely rational vs. irrational? Hagan actually offers some facts to back up her assertions. (An even stronger case would have been made by stressing how BUILD, ostensibly a job-training organization, served significantly to supply a corps of citizen supporters of the project at public hearings.)

Caldwell says, essentially, that the end justifies the means.

And Lewis, who claims, "I don’t need no politician to make my stuff tight cause I know how to guarantee my stuff," said nothing when the Development Agreement gave Forest City Ratner 25 years to deliver the subsidized housing--much of it not affordable to ACORN members--that was supposed to arrive in a decade.

In the end, the arguments in the play might leave the less-informed viewer confused. But, as we know, the project is far less a job creator and economic development tool than promised.


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