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From theater critics, "In the Footprint" draws raves and mixed reviews; no one agrees with BPaper's claim that play would "appall" project opponents

Updated Dec. 3

Well, after a dubious pan by the Community Newspaper Group's Gersh Kuntzman (oddly and hastily endorsed by the Observer) and my mixed but appreciative review, theater critics are either raving or offering mixed reviews about IN THE FOOTPRINT: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards, by The Civilians.

The key review, from the New York Times's Charles Isherwood, sums it up:
This simple, scruffy-looking but smartly put-together production, written and directed by Steve Cosson and featuring songs by Michael Friedman (“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson”), is as fresh, inventive and frankly as entertaining as any new work of musical theater to open this fall.
(He does, erroneously, refer to the "the redevelopment of the Atlantic Yards, the abandoned railway lines near downtown Brooklyn." The Vanderbilt Yard is in continuous use, and the project would be over and around the railyard. Remember, "Atlantic Yards" is a brand, not a place.)

Some mixed feelings

TheaterMania's review calls the show "often-compelling" though it acknowledges the challenges:
There's a lot of material here to squeeze into 100 minutes, and while director Steven Cosson does an admirable job, the staging can feel unfocused.
Similarly, the Village Voice's review focuses on the challenges:
Though Cosson provides much innovative staging, his attempts to cram so many viewpoints into the show and create balance among them produces a somewhat jumbled piece
Backstage offers:
Steve Cosson and co-writer Jocelyn Clarke have expertly curated the views and feelings (taken from interviews and the public record) of a wide array of people about the plan to use eminent domain to secure the land for the development... The company... consistently delivers these individuals' words with passion, but a lack of specificity in characterization sometimes leads to confusion.
People's history

All the reviews counter (as I and "Rebecca from Boerum Hill" did) the curious Kuntzman conclusion that the play would appall Atlantic Yards opponents. The L Magazine's review states:
In the Footprint is necessary viewing for every Brooklynite and, really, every American—it's a Times-hating, Markowitz-trashing People's History of the Atlantic Yards Project that lays out, in plain and often emotional terms, a decade of corruption, activism and David-and-Goliath loggerheads.
New York Magazine's review states:
Footprint is social theater at its querulous best, picking up the significant slack left by a vitiated journalism.

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.
And writer Sean Elder, a member of the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn advisory board, observes:
But having just come back from In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards at the Irondale Center, next to the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, was kind of like having personal history repeat itself, practically in my bedroom.

As my wife said when we went to see Fair Game, the movie about the Valerie Plame affair, “It makes you mad all over again.”

From the Architect's Newspaper, Review> Ratner to Neighborhood: Drop Dead:
Audiences who followed the dispute will be familiar with the play’s sentiments, but not with its dramatic architecture. Steve Cosson structures In the Footprint as a no-budget framework of available materials for his dozen energetic young performers (none looked over 30) who play characters speaking, singing, and shouting their lines, with Cosson as the sole accompanist on piano. The show advances briskly enough to avoid overkill by tears or speechmaking. If developer Bruce Ratner sees In the Footprint, he might leave wishing that his Atlantic Yards project were just as streamlined.
More raves

TimeOut New York offers five stars:
In the hands of the incisive docutheater company the Civilians, this ongoing struggle between residents and developers is less about politics and real estate and more about the fragility of communities and the ephemeral nature of home. Assembled from interviews with neighbors, politicians, activists and business owners, In the Footprint combines low-tech theatrics with intimate monologues to create a profoundly personalized collage. Supplemented by documentary video and zippy pedagogical songs by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), the show cuts through the political spin to expose the backroom machinations and racial tensions beneath the surface of the Atlantic Yards controversy.
The New York Post's brief review calls it A thrilling look at a boro haul:
Performed just several blocks away from the project site itself, "Footprint" is as entertaining as it is enlightening. Clearly impassioned, it never stoops to polemics.
The New York Daily News (belatedly) calls it Urban planning made fun!:
Leave it to the ace docutheater company the Civilians to turn a convoluted and contentious saga of urban planning into something concise, juicy and entertaining.

And with playful tunes, to boot.
Critic Aaron Riccio writes on his That Sounds Cool blog:

It is also one of the year's most sincere, clever, and enjoyable shows, period.
Some gaps

I can't say I find the reviews fully astute. They don't grapple with the play's unresolved tension between the specific Atlantic Yards "footprint"/project and the larger issues of gentrification and Brooklyn identity.

That means "The Neighborhood Song," the show's tuneful, poignant closing number, is, when you think about it, something of a muddle.

And the Times's review closes with a straightfaced recounting of what I thought was one of weakest scenes in the play:
But there is a chorus on hand, at least briefly. This being Brooklyn, it is an assembly of bloggers, all with firm opinions on the matters at hand. Which does not mean that they can be bothered to get out of their bathrobes.


  1. Funny, I wrote a column about Atlantic Yards two weeks ago including unreported news in my At Wit's End Column for Our Time Press. You can pretend I no longer exist, but I am the only journalist, blogger or mainstream, who has covered the Atlantic Yards project from day one. And I'm back - bigger, badder and better

  2. And you provided a link, right?

  3. am i remembering incorrectly, but didn't the "brooklyn paper" (and gersh kuntzmann) take a fairly skeptical approach to the AY project up until a few years ago when the newspaper was bought by someone who was a giant cheerleader for the project?

    i supposed it's not shocking that the wondefully named kuntzmann would be practically the sole theater "critic" who did not "find In the Footprint" to be largely an extremely interesting drama.


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