Saturday, January 24, 2015

Between Riverside and Crazy

In the truly amazing Between Riverside and Crazy, the wonderful Stephen Adly Guirgis signals us quickly that all is not what it seems. Pops, the old man in the wheelchair, is neither ill nor injured. The people who call him "Dad" are not his children. And the one-line description that is being widely used to descibe the play ("Between Riverside and Crazy centers on a retired policeman threatened with eviction and his extended family and friends") barely scratches the surface of this funny, fascinating, insightful, and surprising examination of truth, love, family, racism, loyalty, and the law. (I am not going further into the plot because I don't want to spoil anything.)

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Liza Colon-Zayas
Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Stephen Adly Guirgis is a superb playwright. He should be mentioned with Albee and Stoppard among the living greats. Why?

  • A great playwright presents three-dimensional people and lets us see what makes them tick--and makes us care about what makes them tick. Check.
  • A great playwright uses language that is simultaneously lyrical yet real. Check.
  • A great playwright sets up a plot that entices the audience to take this trip with these people. Check.
  • A great playwright combines humor with tragedy and tragedy with humor. Check.
  • A great playwright writes characters who do surprising things that somehow feel inevitable. Check.
  • A great playwright lets us see ourselves in other people, no matter how different they may be on the surface. Check.
  • A great playwright is full of compassion. Check.
  • A great playwright knows that life happens in the gray areas. Check.
In this first-class production, Guirgis gets the high level of direction and acting that his play merits. It has long been obvious that when you see the names Stephen McKinley Henderson and Ron Cephas Jones in a cast list, you know you're in good hands--the best, really. Austin Pendleton is another name you're glad to see, in this case as director. As always, his direction is excellent: unfussy, clear, and devoted to the play. And the rest of the cast members are all fabulous, with one slightly weak link.

[Spoiler] I can't resist discussing one part of the plot. Due to a bullet wound, Pops can't have an erection. Then a faith healer shows up--a lady from the local church ostensibly just checking in to see how he's doing. She sees that he is in spiritual pain and decides to cure him. He doesn't accept her diagnosis and doesn't share her faith. He's not interested in her ministrations. But she wins him over with a combination of faux-religious mumbo jumbo and the skills of a lap dancer. And he gets hard for the first time in years. The scene is deeply funny and kind of beautiful.

The healer is of course a fake, out to rip Pops off. But, in keeping with the theme of nothing being what it seems, she does cure him. So is she really a fake? Yes, of course. But, no, too. It's a fun and intriguing paradox. [End of spoiler]

Between Riverside and Crazy is running at the Second Stage through March 22nd. Don't miss it.

(8th row, tdf ticket)

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