Award-winning playwright, actor and director Danny Hoch is currently on Broadway in Relatively Speaking, a trio of one-act plays by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen. But Broadway isn't where you usually find Hoch, who's known for rollicking and provocative solo performances such as

Taking Over, a critically-acclaimed show that grappled with the ways gentrification methodically destroys communities in New York City. We caught up with Hoch last week to talk about gentrification, Williamsburg, and Broadway, where you can now catch him six nights a week—he appears in Coen's and Allen's plays, and he's very funny in both.

So how did you end up getting involved with this production? I don't remember.

Was there an audition? Yeah, I remember reading for Ethan Coen, and then for Woody Allen.

It must have been tricky to cast because there were so many different pieces of the puzzle, with people playing multiple roles. Yeah, I would imagine. I think the casting took them like, months, and for a play, I don't think that's standard.

Was this your first time working with John Turturro and all of the people who wrote the plays? Yeah, it's my first time working with everybody involved.

And also, your first time on Broadway? Actually no, I did some of my solo stuff back in the 90s at the New Victory.

So it's been a while since you did something in the real heart of the Theater District? In the Theater District, yeah. If that's what you call it.

Is it a strange place for you to because your work is usually Off Broadway? It is, it is. The audience is different, the whole context is a different context, but at the end of the day it's theater.

Do you feel like it's more of a challenge to connect with the audience? It seems like when I go to a Broadway show, it's more like watching a movie than the theater I normally go to see downtown or in Brooklyn. Well, I've been doing a little analysis of the audiences in this show versus audiences in Off Broadway theaters and regional theaters around the country. I think the majority of the audience that comes in on most nights—not all nights, but most nights—actually thinks they're coming to see a movie. And some of the reactions are as if they're watching a movie!

Audiences are weird. I think sometimes there's this mythification that happens with any kind of celebrity, and I think automatically people say, "there's this celebrity" and "there's that celebrity" and all of a sudden, what they're seeing is on a movie screen. It's not real even if they stop them outside the theater to ask them for an autograph. I've seen it happen. You can't often have a conversation because people are...they have a TV screen in their head, and nothing is really real. But that's not all audiences. Some audiences are really, really intimately engaged in a very different way and we can tell as a cast which audiences are sort of smarter and more sophisticated and really connected, and which of the audiences are just watching a movie. Those are a dead giveaway, when the curtain comes up and people are laughing immediately. Like nervous laughter, it's like "Oh, that's the TV crowd."

Was Ethan involved in directing at all, or was that all John [Turturro]? No, John directed the entire thing, but all three playwrights were pretty active in the development process. They were there most rehearsals, I'd say, chiming in about text changes and sometimes—in Woody's case—line readings, because he has his musical composition in his head that he wants to hear, but none of them were really directed.

What was it like working with Ethan? Ethan is a really nice guy with very little to say, but when he says it, I think he really means it. He really cares about his text and he really cares about his characters, but he's a hell of a nice guy.

Did he give you any direction that opened up anything for you as you were working on it? No, but just clarification. I think the thing I recognize about Ethan, and also Woody, is more that they say very little because the work is supposed to speak for itself and they want the work to speak for itself. So if they wound up talking a lot about whatever the play says, then that means they haven't done their job as the playwright. I think they know that, so they try to say as little as possible and only necessary. I appreciate that because I write as well, and that kind of illuminated some things for me in my own writing. If it's not self-explanatory on the page, you better fix it.

I was reading about the production process and I saw originally that Fred Melamed was in it—who I love—and then he dropped out. Were you surprised by that, and how did that go down? Yeah, I was pretty surprised. I don't know, one day he was there and the next day he wasn't. I don't really know the intimate details of all of that, but we were sad to see him go. His replacement is as great to work with as Fred was great to work with. So I don't really have an opinion but I guess this happens in the commercial theater.

And his replacement was also in A Serious Man, right? Yes, and the two of them are friends, actually.

How long was the rehearsal process? Was it the standard time for a Broadway show? I think so, probably less because it's not a musical, so we were just in rehearsal five weeks and then the next thing I know we were up in previews. I was talking to somebody yesterday and kind of surprised that even in previews they didn't have to paper the house at all, which is unlikely not just for a Broadway production but even Off Broadway productions. Every show of previews was sold out.

I think there's so many different creative forces involved in the production that it's attracting people for all sorts of reasons. There are the Woody Allen fans, and then there are the Coen brothers fans, and then there are the Elaine May fans, and the Marlo Thomas fans, and the Julie Kavner fans, and Steve Guttenberg fans. I was shocked when a few people stopped me outside of the theater and said, "Hey we came to see you." I thought, "Really? On Broadway?" But I think there's so many different elements in it for so many different people that people keep coming to the show. So it was as if we had opened already—and we weren't even that tight in terms of production—but it kind of felt like it from the audience's perspective.

Let's talk about your last show, which was called Taking Over and concerned gentrification. You performed that for free in places around New York—as well as the Public—and I'm wondering, when you did these free shows, did you feel like you were connecting with the people in those gentrified neighborhoods who are feeling pushed out. Were these people coming? Those were the best shows ever. They were some of the best shows I've done in my life, actually. I don't think you can be more precise in terms of who you're writing for and who is sitting in the audience as the precision that was achieved when I did this show in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens and specifically gentrified neighborhoods. So yeah, I mean talk about resonating. I was at the Public Theater—and of course a lot of the people in the audience were New Yorkers, but I would say a certain class of New Yorkers, more often than not—so certain things resonate, but not as profoundly as they did in the Bronx or in Brooklyn or Queens.

Do you still reside in Williamsburg? Yeah, I'm going on 22 years here.

I'm on the Southside, so I definitely relate to Taking Over. You have characters in your play who are saying things like, "Go home, go live somewhere else." Are those characters speaking for you? Do you believe that and are you conflicted about contributing to gentrification? Yes, and yes. I'm part of the "go home contingent" and I'm a part of the "I'm responsible contingent." It's hypocritical, but I think we're all living immensely contradictory lives in this city and in this country, in some way, shape or form. And I think there's a little bit of me in every one of the characters in the show, and they all have different perspectives; some of them are embracing the gentrification, some of them are completely rejecting it, some of them are taking great monetary advantage of it, and some of them are simply being pushed out of their homes that they've lived in their whole lives.

I think part of my motivation to write the piece was not so much about how I felt about what was going on in Williamsburg specifically—even though that was most of it—but also just as a lifelong New Yorker. Knowing my parents' history in New York City and my grandparents history in New York City, and seeing the changes to the city that are different from the changes that happened from waves of immigration. Gentrification is not a wave of immigration, gentrification is an influx of money. This changes things economically.

This is a microcosm, not just for what's happening in this city but for what's happening in the country and what happened with the population and the children of the baby boomers. Over the course of ten years, tens of millions of the children of baby boomers got up and left their homes in Iowa and Minneapolis and Arkansas and Oregon and Washington and Canada and Florida and Georgia and every one of the 50 states, and they went to the cities. So there's a whole complicated mess that arises out of that, some good, some not good.

Makes me think of those new condo towers that have gone up right on the water on North 4th Street. They seem so out of place, but then there's also the riverfront parks that they put in as part of the deal to get those built. And I do love those parks. My personal opinion about those things is not so much, can you measure the good of a waterfront park, or can you measure the good of a bike lane, or can you measure the good of less crime or more food options that are healthy; my lament lies in the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people that either died or went to prison or were moved out in order for that to happen, and didn't get to take advantage of all these good things.

So, as someone like myself, who is able to take advantage of these things, there's some survivor's guilt and so, it's complicated. Miguel Algarin from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, one of the founders of that place, said something many years ago that stuck with me, and the meaning of which winds up in my play in many places. It was in the late 80s he said this—or maybe it was like, 1990—he said, "I can't believe this. Do you remember what Alphabet City was? Back in the 70s, back in the 80s? It was a war zone. You couldn't walk down the street, he said, and now there's a bistro on Avenue D, a French bistro! Unbelievable! And the food is pretty damn good." And a french bistro is not a bad thing, but when hundreds or thousands of people have to move—or anyone has to move from their lifelong home—in order for that to be there and have other people with access enjoy it, then there's a problem.