April 8, 2015

The effects of urban gentrification have oft been noted. Bodegas transformed into latte dispensaries. Skyrocketing rents that force out longtime neighborhood dwellers. In the skillful play “Buzzer,” by Tracey Scott Wilson, which opened at the Public Theater on Wednesday, the issue is examined from a more intimate point of view, as the relationship between an interracial couple comes under unexpected strain when they move to the urban frontier. Ms. Wilson’s slow-burning, thought-provoking drama is set in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, where you can’t even find a Starbucks. Jackson (Grantham Coleman), who is African-American, grew up here, and in an opening monologue he traces with glowing pride how far from those rough streets he has come: scholarship to Exeter, then Harvard, then Harvard Law. Jackson has no nostalgia for the times when crack ruled these streets; he wants to move back to the old neighborhood not for sentimental reasons, but because the apartments are being renovated and sold for reasonable prices to upper-middle-class urbanites (like him) looking for more space. His white girlfriend, Suzy (Tessa Ferrer), recently had a setback at the school where she works and has been put on administrative leave. Although she at first bridles at the idea of moving in with Jackson for financial reasons, he convinces her it’s time. She’s not entirely keen on the neighborhood: “None of our friends are going to come here,” she says. When Jackson demurs, she adds, “Baby, we wouldn’t come here if we didn’t live here.”