Entertainment » Theatre

Between Riverside and Crazy

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Sep 17, 2018
The cast of SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of 'Between Riverside and Crazy,' continuing through Oct. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts
The cast of SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of 'Between Riverside and Crazy,' continuing through Oct. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts  (Source:Nile Scott Studios)

SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' Pulitzer-winning play "Between Riverside and Crazy" is stamped with the pain of struggle and the balm of humor, not to mention some terrific performances.

Pops (Tyrees Allen) lives in a rent-controlled apartment in one of New York City' more desirable areas, but his is a life that's slowly tweeting over the edge. When first we meet him, he's sitting in a wheelchair - not because he needs it, himself (despite having survived six gunshots from a fellow cop eight years ago), but because it belonged to his late wife and he hasn't brought himself to get rid of it yet.

Pop's apartment may be "palatial," as someone describes it, but it's also falling into disrepair, not unlike Pops himself. Still, it makes for a comfortable home, and not just for Pops; son Junior (Stewart Evan Smith) is also present, as is Junior's girlfriend, Lulu Octavia Chavez-Smith) and one of Junior's friends, the clean and sober Oswaldo (Alejandro Simoes), who may not be quite ready, despite his sobriety, to face the toughest parts of his own messy life.


Alejandro Simoes, Stewart Evan Smith, and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of 'Between Riverside and Crazy,' continuing through Oct. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts  (Source:Nile Scott Studios)

That shooting from eight years earlier has spawned a long-running lawsuit against the city that Pops' former partner, Detective O'Connor (Maureen Keiller), and her fiancee, Lieutenant Caro (Lewis D. Wheeler), are now trying to get Pops to resolve by settling. The two mount a highly competent charm offensive, but it's no good against Pops' street-wise canniness. Nor do their entreaties have much effect against his deep-seated rage. When things start getting nasty, with Caro listing all the bad things that the police and the city could bring down on Pops' head (not the least of which would be the ruination of Junior's life), it's even money as to whether Pops will set aside his fury and his pride even to save his son.

Strangely, however, the intercession of a "Church Lady" (Celeste Oliva) with some enchanting charms of her own might bring Pops peace and wholeness... if, that is, her ministrations don't kill him first.

Everyone has their own needs to answer and traumas to wrestle with in this deeply reflective comedy, and while Guirgis' script might only give us a glimpse or a sketch of some of those complex situations, his focus is unerringly correct and well-placed. Director Tiffany Nichole Greene brings out the best in her cast, and that is very good indeed; Allen's Pops is tough, cantankerous, and lovable, and never do you question why everyone sharing the apartment calls him "Dad" (even the people who have no relation to him). Nor do you ever doubt the sincerity of their affections even when Pops acts standoffish or, as happens with one character in a moment of crisis, things take a violent turn.


Celeste Oliva and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of 'Between Riverside and Crazy,' continuing through Oct. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts  (Source:Nile Scott Studios)

Transcending the personal dynamics of the story are larger social forces, including the ongoing urgency around white law enforcement officers using excessive force against people of color. The fact that Pops' own life is Blue, and that Guirgis makes his life matter to us, serves to deepen and sharpen the debate around the issue. Oliva's Church Lady is an intriguing puzzle (how many church ladies making house calls to offer a sacrament manage to blend magical rituals and sex into the mix, and do it with such naturalistic ease?), while Lulu's blend of airheadedness and powerful sexuality is brought over with ease by Chavez-Richmond, who has some of the play's best one-liners and clearly knows how to handle them.

Caro's career ambitions clearly drive his exhortations to Pops to settle with the city, but Wheeler lets us see a guy with a heart underneath his venal veneer. Keiller's Detective O'Connor is more a daughter to Pops than a mentee, but even here there are spiky, contradictory nuances; in some ways, you sense, she understands the old man better than any of the rest.

On scales large and small, this is a play about politics of every stripe, and the ways in which they complicate, and contaminate, our interpersonal ties.


"Between Riverside and Crazy" continues through Oct. 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts. For tickets and more information, please go to http://www.speakeasystage.com/riverside-crazy/


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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