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All the Neighborhood's a Stage

Anu Yadav's One-Woman Play ''Capers' Puts Gentrification in the Spotlight

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2004; Page C01

She cries: a slow, quiet, shy cry. It's nerves, stress, exhaustion. Or it might be stage fright.

" 'Capers," the one-woman-play Anu Yadav is writing and starring in -- over a year in the making, "based on interviews, interaction and observation" -- is a work in progress. Until Tuesday, late into the night, Yadav was still making cuts: a line in a monologue here, a dialogue there. She'll perform it in a staged reading tonight through Saturday at the D.C. Arts Center in Adams Morgan. Last night, for an almost standing-room only crowd, she performed it, script in hand, for the residents and former residents of 'Capers -- shorthand for the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg public housing project in Southeast Washington, not far from the proposed major league baseball stadium.

"I am using people's stories, in a literal way," said Anu Yadav, 26, shown performing her one-woman show at the Arthur Capper Community Center in D.C. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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The Theater & Dance section has reviews and information about area theater events.

Slowly, as Yadav has witnessed, this neighborhood of 707 units -- with about 400 families and 300 seniors -- is disappearing, its residents moving away. Buildings are being boarded up; Little Star, the Korean-owned corner store down the street, was recently bought out, all because of Hope VI, a federal grant program that gives the District money to turn public housing projects like 'Capers into mixed-income neighborhoods where original residents can later come back -- what some people would call gentrification and others would call revitalization.

It's the complicated story of a changing city. Indeed, amid the cranes that signal development in the District, residents in the projects -- some with working-class jobs, others unemployed, many with children -- are outsiders of sorts, like Yadav. Of Indian descent, born in the Midwest, schooled at Bryn Mawr just outside Philadelphia, she isn't "one of them" but rather one of the countless twentysomethings who've moved into the District, diploma and dreams in hand. But her life doesn't revolve around Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan or Capitol Hill, but here, where kids like 10-year-old Jasmine call her Miss Anu and 52-year-old moms like Miss Frazier share their life stories.

"I thought it was going to be really fun," Yadav said over dinner the night before the reading. A Columbia Heights resident who works part time as an office assistant, she knows more people in 'Capers than in her own neighborhood.

In the beginning of the play, as the narrator, she explains, "I like acting, I like writing, I like talking to people. I thought maybe I could combine all those things and document some of the people's stories in the neighborhood before it vanished and before people moved out. So I asked people I knew, 'Can I interview you? I'll put it together in a play?' And, people said, 'Yeah.' "

Yadav, 26, first stepped into 'Capers in July 2002, a month after moving to the District and a year after winning a $22,000 fellowship that let her spend time in Brazil, India and South Africa, studying street theater and "how the arts can be used for something other than for art's sake." Like the one-woman works of Anna Deavere Smith ("Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992," about the impact of the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles) and Sarah Jones ("Bridge & Tunnel," soon to be on Broadway, about immigrants in New York), " 'Capers" gives voice to the voiceless.

So in a one-hour play she plays nearly a dozen parts.

Once, she's 15, a child in a public housing project, who recites a poem:

"Mom is mad

because things aren't going her way

and today was just a terrible day

Mom is mad

because no one doesn't want to be bothered

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