The same thing is happening in Brooklyn, especially over the past twenty years but certainly throughout the 20th century as well. As more and more people are priced out of Manhattan, no choice is left but to move across the East River into the borough of Brooklyn. The defining term for this process is gentrification, or “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents” (Merriam-Webster).
Stoopdreamer, a new play by Pat Fenton, is an intimate commentary on the gentrification process in Brooklyn, specifically applying to the small neighborhood of Windsor Terrace. Located between Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, Windsor Terrace is a nine-block wide residential neighborhood which for years was home to many immigrant families, a majority of which were Irish. Though the gentrification of Brooklyn continues today, for Windsor Terrace this has been an event 70 years in the making: in 1946, Robert Moses announced a brand new road building program that consequently destroyed an enormous amount of residences in the community, and as a result over 1,200 Windsor Terrace residents were left homeless.
A play that has almost no dialogue between its characters, Stoopdreamer is a narrative of soliloquies which paints a very different picture of the Windsor Terrace of today. Set in the old Irish Saloon Farrell’s, Stoopdreamer’s cast of three speak in rotation, reminiscing of better days in a neighborhood which has all but disappeared as the years have gone by. First up is Jimmy the Bartender, played by Jack O’Connell. Jimmy inherited the Saloon from his father and has spent his entire life maintaining and running the place. He is a hard-working man who does the work required of him, and doesn’t make excuses. The business was his father’s, and now he runs the show, and that’s the end of it! His acting is heartfelt, and one might believe he actually spent his life behind that bar, so convincing is his portrayal.
Next up is the resident barfly, for what good is a bartender without his patrons? Enter Bill Cwikowski as Billy Coffey. Cwikowski spends most of the play planted at one end of the bar, imbibing a 16 ounce Budweiser (out of a Styrofoam cup, no less) while tackling a New York Times crossword. A pensive actor, Cwikowski embodies an Irish “blue collar” worker with ease, and one particular monologue about an old friend who worked in a factory making Brillo Pads—dumping brass wire into boiling soap—is particularly vivid and haunting. Cwikowski brings a dejected optimism to the table; a tale of a young man with dreams that disappeared as each neighboring building was torn to the ground.
Rounding out the cast is Robin Leslie Brown’s Janice Joyce. Years ago, Joyce was a regular of Farrell’s, but life happened and now it has been many years since she’s been back to the old haunt. While Jimmy and Billy’s commentary is mostly centered on the changes in the neighborhood, Brown spends a lot of time confessing her regrets and reflecting on missed opportunities. Lamenting a lost flame or quietly smiling as she recalls a night burned into her memory in detail, Brown has a slight twinkle in her eye that brings to the play a sentimental nostalgia.
Directed by Kira Simring, Stoopdreamer is executed with an appropriate simplicity. Every monologue is focused, and the three individual performances in the play are nuanced and separately heavy-handed in a unique way, but most importantly this profundity never feels overbearing. In fact, there are quite a few memorable moments of humor which break up the pace and tone of the evening quite nicely. The venue, Nancy Manocherian’s the cell has a fitting atmosphere for such a delicate play: a large, open playing space in which no member of the audience is ever more than ten feet from the action. This allows for a strong emotional connection to the script and the characters who feel torn straight from the past.
As a part of Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival, Patrick Fenton’s Stoopdreamer is a lovely ode to “the good ole’ days,” and is a balanced blend of humor and depth. Strong performances, an ease of pace, and an intimate portrayal of a generation left behind highlight this satisfying trip down memory lane.
Stoopdreamer (through October 27, 2015)
Origin Theatre Company’s 1st Irish Theatre Festival: New York’s Annual Festival of Irish Theatre
the cell, 338 West 23rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 646-861-2253 or visit http://www.1st irish.org
Running time: one hour with no intermission