Directed by Kira Simring
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Playwright Pat Fenton’s “Stoopdreamer” – part of the 1st Irish 2015 Festival – holds special meaning to the Irish American community of Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and it holds an equally special meaning to all residents of urban communities who have experienced the process of gentrification over the past quarter century (or more) – gentrification by outsiders and by urban planning and development.
“Stoopdreamer” is an immersive theatre piece that takes place in Farrell’s Bar and Grill in Windsor Terrace, the last remaining Irish saloon from the pre-gentrification era. Jimmy the Bartender (Jack O’Connell), neighborhood resident and regular Billy Coffey Bill Cwikowski), and former resident Janice Joyce (Robin Leslie Brown) up from Toms River hoping to find her old flame Billy regale the bar patrons (the audience at the cell) with memories, memorials, and dreams. After Roberts Moses decided to displace 1,252 families with his massive 1945 Prospect Expressway Project, the community fell prey to a progressive loss in established businesses and the influx of residents looking for affordable property.
The loss of Windsor Terrace Landmarks and the incursion by bargain-seeking property buyers foreshadowed the loss of tradition and community ownership. The disappearance of the M. J. Smith Funeral Home, the Sanders Movie Theatre (later the Pavilion), and other iconic Windsor Terrace landmarks not only provided space for high-rise apartments but also sapped the spirits of the “stoopdreamers” who watched their beloved neighborhood diminish.
Under the even hand of director Kira Simring, the cast of “Stoopdreamer” create three believable and authentic characters whose stories counterpoint the gradual development of Windsor Terrace and give flesh and blood to the historical account of the disappearance of a community and the dreams of its denizens. Jack O’Connell’s portrayal of Jimmy the Bartender is engaging and Mr. O’Connell gives voice to all the characters he includes in Jimmy’s narration. Bill Cwikowski handily embodies the character of Billy Coffey who chose the family tradition of becoming a police officer over his dream of becoming a writer. And Robin Leslie Brown’s portrayal of Billy’s old girlfriend Janice Joyce is filled with heartfelt passion and yearning. Billy and Janice’s meeting at the play’s end embodies the collision of past and present and symbolizes the possibility of future – for the couple and for the community.
It must not go unnoticed that the residents of Windsor Terrace once gentrified the land owned by the Canarsie Indians through a purchase by John Vanderbilt and later development by real estate developer William Bell. And it must not be unnoticed that the same discontent with the way things had been in his family for generations, led Billy Coffey to eventually separate and individuate from that family tradition by becoming a writer. Might it not have been the same wanderlust and desire to “better” oneself that led the residents of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights to begin to gentrify Windsor Terrace in the 1980s?
“Stoopdreamer” is an engaging look at the process of gentrification and the loss of dreams of those who sat on their stoops and watched all they held dear slowly disappear.