by Claire Moodey · August 11, 2014
Deaon Griffin-Pressley's The Tragedy at HOOD: 14542, (Hoodiscal) offers a moving and intelligent look at the early stages of gentrification in Hood 14542. The play opens with a prologue: a beautifully choreographed dance to African drumming by the entire ensemble which is interrupted by the elder truth-sayer who recalls the transformation of the black man from kings and queens in African homelands to the oppression of peoples enslaved in America. From there, the action proper transports us to an urban black neighborhood where we meet an array of characters speaking in Griffin-Pressley's ingenious reinvention of Shakespearean verse. The language is lewd, lustful and lyrically flowers with all the beauty and surprising directness of the Bard.
The inhabitants of Hood 14542 are living their lives, full of new love, infidelity, drug money and sibling rivalry. But with the arrival of a couple real estate investors seeking twenty signatures of consent to gentrify the neighborhood, the heat is on. As the realtors (one black, one white) canvas the neighborhood, we learn that Yellow Man, the black real estate investor (played by the playwright), grew up in the neighborhood. I found the storytelling compelling and was excited to see such a complex topic handled in rough and raw terms: no one's perspective was ultimately providing the saving. Everyone's tragic complicity in oppressions is laid bare.
While not specifically located in an NYC neighborhood, The Tragedy at HOOD: 14542 is recognizable around the city in Bed-Stuy, Harlem, Crown Heights. (In reality, the zip code 14542 refers to Rose, NY, a rural town between Rochester and Schenectady.) Hood 14542 is all too familiar a place; we glimpse it in the underbelly of Baz Lurhman's adaptation of Romeo + Juliet, in West Side Story, and of course in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.
Tiffany Nichole Greene's direction is clean and classical; her staging and Steven Martin's fight choreography scream The Globe. The actors were very strong and carried the language beautifully. I highly recommend seeing this piece. It is the type of theatre that stimulates conversation about and reflects our own community in NYC. The conversations this type of work make available are precisely what drives me to the theater. If you're looking for a way into a conversation, or for a good Shakespearean tragedy with lots of sex humor on the way don't miss The Tragedy at Hood: 14542.