Trapped Between Riverside and Crazy
Humanity spills from the stage in Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen Adly Guirgis's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which receives its New England premiere in an excellent, finely acted production at SpeakEasy Stage Company.
As Guirgis has demonstrated again and again with plays like The Motherf**ker With the Hat, Jesus Hopped the ‘A' Train, and Our Lady of 121 Street, he has a soft spot for flawed, fractured humans, and Riverside is no exception. Here, Guirgis's characters wear their humanity on their sleeves and, in the case of a few characters who reside at the rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment of Walter "Pops" Washington, they're in desperate need of a new lease on life.
Recently widowed, the cantankerous old retired cop Pops (played to perfection by Tyrees Allen) has opened his doors to Oswaldo (a remarkable Alejandro Simoes), a recovering addict still on probation and trying to piece his life back together. Also shacking up at Pops's roomy place is his son, Junior (Stewart Evan Smith), a sometime criminal, and his flighty but sweet, and possibly pregnant, girlfriend Lulu (a terrific Octavia Chavez-Richmond). Pops is growing tired of his son not having his act together, and he wants him to hurry up and become a man so he can break his hip and die in peace.
But Pops, who is African-American, has his own issues, namely a still-unresolved civil suit that he brought against the New York Police Department following an incident eight years earlier when a white rookie cop pumped Pops full of bullets. Pops's old partner, Detective O'Connor (Maureen Keiller), along with her husband-to-be, Lieutenant Caro (Lewis D. Wheeler), try to persuade Pops to accept the NYPD's final offer — which includes some cash — so that everyone can move on. But Pops has pride to burn and refuses to give in. Lieutenant Caro, it turns out, has no problem fighting dirty. He's aware that Pops is sitting on a gold mine with his huge rent-controlled apartment and promises Pops that he can embolden the housing authority to find a way to get him out (the well-worn apartment is designed by Erik D. Diaz).
Guirgis's play is a beautifully written, perceptive human study about the price of pride and the minefields of survival in a world that isn't particularly forgiving to anyone, let alone people of color who have a few demons to reckon with. While it offers a strong first act, the piece does give way to a patchy and incredulous finale.
Under the direction of Tiffany Nichole Greene, which perfectly balances rich drama with just the right amount of grit, SpeakEasy's production of Between Riverside and Crazy is one of the highlights of this fall's theatrical crop and unquestionably the best thing SpeakEasy has done recently. May this be only the first of many Boston productions entrusted to Greene.