“Between Riverside and Crazy” Review
Overlooking the Hudson River, in a spacious apartment on Manhattan’s posh Riverside Drive, a collection of broken souls has gathered to seek refuge if not redemption in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ dark comedy, “Between Riverside and Crazy.”
Walter “Pops” Washington, retired at three-quarters disability pay from the New York Police Department and recently widowed, nurses an impotent rage at his bad luck and lifetime of bad decisions, while ignoring threats that the city is about to bounce him from his rent-controlled, if run-down, home.
Directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos and enjoying its Los Angeles premiere at The Fountain Theatre, the superbly acted, profanity riddled “Riverside” won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama among a slew of other awards.
Pops—played by Montae Russell—will tell you that he’s a highly decorated police officer and combat veteran, gunned down eight years earlier by a rookie police officer, who called him nigger as he pulled the trigger six times. But as with all Riverside’s characters, you’d be wise to take anything he says about himself with a large grain of salt.
Dwelling deepest within Pops and fueling his evident alcoholism is the treatment he received as a black police officer: white officers dismissed him as an affirmative action hire, white city dwellers eyed him suspiciously, and black New Yorkers wrote him off as an Uncle Tom—and to make bad matters worse, all those years ago, while off duty, he was racially profiled and shot by a white cop.
Joining him that first morning as Pops savors his breakfast single malt scotch is Oswaldo (Victor Anthony), clean and sober for the moment, who dreams of reuniting with his estranged father in the Bronx, while deploying his newfound recovery wisdom to help Pops, his surrogate father, improve his eating habits.
But Pops is having none of it, preferring his regular breakfast regimen of pumpkin pie topped with cool whip to anything Oswaldo’s diet gurus might prescribe: “They always saying something, ain’t they?” Pops enjoins. “And mostly in the end, what ‘they say’ always end up completely ass-backwards from what they originally said!”
Also crashing at Pops’ place is flirtatious Lulu (Marisol Miranda), a scantily clad college student pursuing an unlikely career as an accountant, who thrills Pops when she reveals that she’s carrying Pop’s grandchild. Sharing a rooftop joint with Pops to break that news, she defends her virtue: “I may look how I look, but that don’t mean I am how I look.”
Completing the dysfunctional, largely self-hating crew is Junior (Matthew Hancock), Pops’ actual son, recently returned from finishing school at Attica and Riker’s Island, who is simmering with resentments at Pops’ treatment of Junior’s late mother, worries about what would happen if Pops actually does lose the apartment, and a deep need for some kind of something from his father.
Propelling this dispirited, no-way-out, hope-to-die stew forward are two visits.
The first comes when Pops’ old partner, Detective Audrey O’Connor (Lesley Fera), and her ladder-climbing fiancé, Lieutenant Dave Caro (Joshua Bitton), drop by for dinner. But as the booze flows, the conviviality devolves from morale-boosting encouragement to more self-seeking motives involving Pops’ long-unsettled lawsuit against the city involving the shooting that disabled him.
The second, more propitious visit involves a substitute Church Lady (Liza Fernandez), who presses something of a cosmic voodoo communion upon Pops, which darn near kills him but which indeed brings him a life-affirming salvation—on this plane if not the next—and lets his damaged house guests move on with their lives as well.
The roughly 100-seat Fountain Theatre has done itself proud again.
“Between Riverside and Crazy” runs through December 15 at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, 323.663.5125, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dick Price & Sharon Kyle