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Between Riverside and Crazy

                                                    by Joel Benjamin

A complex, riveting, if oddly constructed, comedy-drama from a brilliant young playwright.

Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose Between Riverside and Crazy has been remounted at the Second Stage Theatre after a highly successful run at the Atlantic Theater, is a fine writer.  The trouble is, he’s not a great playwright, at least, not yet.  He is brilliant at creating characters and giving them words that perfectly match their personalities, backgrounds and psychological makeup.  It’s dizzying just how fine these lines can be.  Occasionally they add up to a good scene, but they don’t add up to a well-constructed play.  Even so, there is a lot to savor in this colorful comedy/drama.

Between Riverside and Crazy centers around Walter, aka Pops, who lives in a spacious, if not exactly spiffy, rent controlled apartment in Manhattan.  He suffered a gunshot wound eight years before while indulging in drink and drugs at an after-hours bar.  The trouble is that he was a cop at the time and lied about the circumstance, claiming that the cop who shot him yelled racial epithets.  Walter is waiting for a huge settlement which never comes. 

Cast of “Between Riverside and Crazy” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Meanwhile he has turned his flat into a hostel for lost souls including his troubled son Junior, Junior’s clothing-impaired girlfriend Lulu and psychologically damaged young Oswaldo adding grist to his landlord’s efforts to evict him.  Walter refuses to compromise.  Detective Audrey O’Connor, Walter’s former NYPD partner and her fiancé Lieutenant David Caro try to persuade the obdurate Walter to take a small settlement with the assurance that he will not lose his apartment.  He adamantly refuses.

Meanwhile Lulu says she’s pregnant, Oswaldo gets violent and Junior gets into more trouble, all of which is punctuated by Walter getting seduced by a phony, sexy Church Lady who’s after his money (which he doesn’t have).   The epiphany, if it can be called that, happens after Walter collapses post-seduction, focusing his thoughts, leading to an ending that is more of a sigh than a scream.

The conversations just cascade one after the other, illuminating each character.  The action takes place in Walt Spangler’s impressive evocation of a faded apartment and the roof of the building, where the quietest and most revealing conversations occur.  Austin Pendleton has found all the right rhythms and has let his cast of fine actors do their thing. 

Stephen McKinley Henderson’s Pops is complex, bothersome and winning.  The rest of the cast match him.  Victor Almanzar hits all the right notes of an addict/low life without becoming a cliché and Ron Cephas Jones captured the deep frustrations of Junior, not only in his voice but his use of his long, lean body.  Rosal Colón as Lulu wears her revealing outfits with flair and totally embodies this complex young lady who’s smarter than she looks.  Liza Colón-Zayas takes the very tiny, but pungent role of Church Lady and plays it to the hilt.  Elizabeth Canavan as Audrey quickly conveys her affection for Pops even though she and Dave are trying to screw him out of his settlement, mostly for their own selfish reasons.   Michael Rispoli plays patience underlined by anger with great skill.

Early on, Guirgis was championed by the late Phllip Seymour Hoffman and his LAByrinth Theater Company.  It’s easy to see why.  Guirgis provides meaty roles for actors.  Guirgis’s creations speak in heightened versions of everyday, downtrodden people’s speech.  Perhaps Guirgis was idolized too soon without enough time to perfect his craft.  There is, however, one thing very clear:  Stephen Adly Guirgis will very soon write a masterpiece for this time and place, the way O’Neill, Williams and Albee did for their times and places.  The anticipation is palpable.   

Between Riverside and Crazy – through March 22, 2015
Second Stage Theatre – Tony Kiser Theatre
305 West 43rd St., just west of 8th Avenue
New York, NY
Tickets & Information:  212-246-4422 or
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission