Home Culture Mile Square Theatre Debuts Play About Hoboken’s Controversial History

Mile Square Theatre Debuts Play About Hoboken’s Controversial History

by Stephanie Spear
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A new play will debut on March 31st at the Mile Square Theatre here in Hoboken. Playwright Joseph Gallo, a Hoboken resident, is behind Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime, a new play based on the book of the same name. The play covers the history behind the Hoboken fires in the early 1980s and how they relate to gentrification. The Hoboken Girl caught up with Joseph to learn more about the inspiration behind the play and what he wants residents to think about after viewing the play. Read on for more from our conversation with Joseph. 

The Writing Process

This play has been a long time coming for Hoboken playwright Joseph Gallo, as it’s based on the book of the same name. Yuppies Invade my House at Dinnertime: A Tale of Brunch, Bombs, and Gentrification in an American City was a book published in 1987 chronicling gentrification in Hoboken along with the impact of the Hoboken fires. The book itself is a collection of letters written by residents to the now-defunct Hoboken Reporter newspaper. Joseph was a Hoboken resident at this time, and he said, “There were over 500 arson fires, and there are still 28 arson-related murder cases still open. It changed the face of Hoboken.”

Joseph Gallo Portrait by Dairen Coto (1)Photo by Dairen Coto

Joseph is the playwright-in-residence at the Mile Square Theatre and has lived in Hoboken since the early 1980s. “A while ago I was doing some research because I was interested in writing a history play about Hoboken,” Joseph said. “I knew about the book but had never read it. But the letters were amazing – funny, super powerful, angry. I think they are one of the top three greatest artistic statements about Hoboken and its history, the first being On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando.”

“A documentary called Delivered Vacant is the second greatest artistic statement about Hoboken,” Joseph said. “It was made around the same time as this book came out. The fires had come to an end but the documentary is very well-known to people who know Hoboken history. It premiered at the New York Film Festival, it was a Sundance film selection. It was a local filmmaker, Nora Jacobson, who made this movie with a lot of national recognization. Nora was one of, if not the first, people I interviewed. We sat down and went frame by frame through her whole film. The film is over two hours long and it took an eight-hour workday and she explained a lot to me. It was a helpful way to start the process.”

Read more: The NJ Room at the JC Public Library is a Hidden History-Filled Gem

Joseph was inspired after reading the book. “I purchased the theatrical rights to the book,” he said. But he didn’t start work right away. “I was at a party and I overheard two women talking about gentrification in Hoboken and they were misinformed,” Joseph said. “I had already purchased the rights but hadn’t started working on the play. Hearing that made me get going. It took the better part of four years to finish it.”

Yuppies Book Cover

“I tried to do an adaptation of the letters in the first draft,” he said. “But it didn’t make sense to people who didn’t know why the BNRs [born and raised] were up against the yuppies. The letters were a response to the gentrification. It wouldn’t make sense without telling the story of gentrification itself.”

He realized he had to change gears. “I began to seek out any and everybody who lived through that time who had a story to tell. I interviewed over 50 people, and they all made it into the play,” he said. The end result, in his words, is a “hybrid documentary play”.

About the Play

The play combines the experiences captured in the book and the interviews that Joseph conducted with Hoboken residents. It is a five-person cast, and Joseph designed it to have community involvement. “I felt that it was important that we have someone from the community, a non-actor, be in the play,” he said. “Hoboken City Councilwoman Jen Giattino has been a part of the cast”

The play’s subject makes it ripe for public debate. “I want people to come away from the play, and talk about it,” Joseph said. “Then I want them to start to see the city in a way that they haven’t before. There’s a generation of people who live in town who don’t know anything about the history of the city.”

Joseph Gallo - Title Card

There are three talk-back sessions scheduled to go along with the play, and a preview event at the Hoboken Historical Museum has already stirred up audience sentiment. “After the performance, one of the audience members said they were inspired to form an advocacy group,” Joseph said. “My role is to start the conversation and get people thinking possibly in a way that they would maybe influence the future. I’m a big proponent of the idea that Hoboken has completely eliminated the possibility of the artist class living here. It’s not possible for the middle class – a nurse or a school teacher, or a firefighter – to live here. So why is that? Why does it have to be that way – is this something we’re okay with? The town is in the hands of developers and we’re ok with it?”

See more: A Conversation With Evelyn Colbert, President of the Montclair Film Festival

The preview event was held at the Hoboken Historical Museum in conjunction with the Museum’s exhibit on the fires, called The Fires: Hoboken 1978-1982. Joseph said that the director of the museum told him that the fires are the thing he gets asked the most about. “It’s referred to as Hoboken’s forgotten history,” he said. “People want to forget that that’s how we got here.”

Joseph went on to say, “Jen Giattino has reached out to the city council, and mayor. I can’t force them, they’ve been invited. This is the greatest place to jump-start a dialogue. She has a list of local politicians to invite. The idea is to get as many game-changers as we can into the building.”

mile square theatre hoboken

The play debuts on March 31st and runs till April 8th at the Mile Square Theatre, located at 1400 Clinton Street. Tickets are available here.

To stay in the know on all local happenings, follow @thehobokengirl on Instagram and TikTok.

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