Sunday, February 7, 2016


Toby Zinman found "In the Footprint" a disappointingly dull docudrama about the legalities of eminent domain focused on the seven-year battle over building an arena in Brooklyn.



By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer

If there is anything New Yorkers like to talk about more than restaurants it’s real estate. In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards, performed by the Civilians at the Annenberg Center, is a musical docudrama about the unpromising topic of “eminent domain”—the complex real estate legality that can crush the individual homeowner in the jaws of corporate takeover. 

The Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn has dragged on for seven years; it began when Bruce Ratner decided to build an arena for basketball in Prospect Heights, a land grab that involved displacing more than 800 people, In the course of various battles, the community was split many different, often surprising ways: black leaders find themselves opposed by black citizens, liberal leaders find themselves allied with big money, a Russian oligarch buys the New Jersey Nets (herein referred to as the Nyets—one of two actually funny moments in the course of the 100-minute evening), the eminent architect Frank Gehry’s design is ditched, and the bloggers have a field day.

It is civic life as its least civil: shouting, haranguing, belligerent, self-righteous, outraged.

And though Philadelphia audiences may care theoretically about the issues (and maybe the score by Germantown Friends School grad Michael Friedman), we can’t care much about the place names, the street names, the delis, the mom-and-pops that go the way of mom-and-pop. And because the show is a retrospective of the battle over Atlantic Yards, it is really just whining and handwringing; it’s over before the show begins, so there is no need, much less inclination, to jump to our feet, fists in the air. This is especially so because the characters are so unappealing and the show is so unfocused (probably a function of both a messy script and fuzzy direction by  Steve Cosson).

Docudrama of the kind the Civilians specialize in involves interviewing many people, replicating many speeches, public and private, to assemble and present a variety of views about a issue of intense communal interest: health care, for example, or gang warfare, or race riots. Anna Deveare Smith is better at this kind of verbatim theater than anybody, although Danny Hoch is terrific, too (his fierce and edgy show, Taking Over, is, similarly, about the gentrification of his Brooklyn neighborhood) . This troupe (Gibson Frazier, Nina Hellman, Donnetta Lavinia Grays, Jordan Mahome, Simone Moore and Brian Sgambati) lacks the vividness and the energy as well as the wit to make us care enough about their subject.


Harold Prince Theatre, Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. Through Jan.29. Tickets $20-30.Information: or  215.898.3900.


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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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