Ever been to see a play, staged a block from your house, about an issue that you were personally engaged in for five years? Neither had I. 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.”
Difference was we weren’t personally involved in the hoax the Bush administration concocted to get us into Iraq, and 100,000 lives and a half a trillion dollars weren’t lost in the battle with Bruce Ratner over Atlantic Yards. Just a neighborhood or two, a poignant fact captured terrifically by the six cast members of In the Footprint. The script was all taken from interviews done with principals in the battle, and public records. (The fight’s real villains, like Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, wouldn’t be interviewed; he is played in performance by a basketball.) The overall effect is a bit like Anna Deavere Smith, if there were six of her, and she sang. The troupe responsible, the Civilians, calls it “investigative theater.”
Too bad the newspapers didn’t think of that! The whole side-splitting, gut-wrenching tale is brought to quick life, and early death (kind of like the Atlantic end of Fifth Avenue) — we were out of there in under two hours. That was about the time that Ratner, Bloomberg, Pataki and all the other crooks who concocted this canard thought it would take them to run away with a big chunk of BK real estate. As members of the advisory board of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, we helped slow them down; I was instrumental in getting Jonathan Lethem involved (he is represented in the play), and we hosted a fundraiser at our house, featuring readings by Jhumpa Lahiri and Jennifer Egan that raised nearly 25 grand for the legal battle against Ratner and his take-it-and-like project. But that kind of money is peanuts to people like him and the Russian billionaire who helped salvage the deal.
Which is precisely the point.