Review Roundup: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY Opens at Second Stage

Second Stage Theatre's production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, opens tonight, February 11, 2015.

The production features Stephen McKinley Henderson, Victor Almanzar (Repertorio Espanol, LAByrinth Theater), Elizabeth Canavan (The Little Flower of East Orange), Rosal Colón (The Motherf*cker with the Hat), Liza Colón-Zayas (Second Stage Theatre's Water by the Spoonful and Living Out), Ron Cephas Jones (Of Mice and Men and 2ST's Wildflower), and Michael Rispoli ("The Sopranos").

City Hall is demanding more than his signature, the Landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed -- and the Church won't leave him alone. For ex-cop and recent widower Walter "Pops" Washington and his recently paroled son Junior, the struggle to hold on to one of the last great rent stabilized apartments on Riverside Drive collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum in this dark comedy from the Tony nominated author of The Motherf*ucker with the Hat.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "Between Riverside and Crazy," the rich new play from Stephen Adly Guirgis, resides in an in-between land of its own. I'd locate it somewhere south of cozy and north of dangerous, west of sitcom and due east of tragedy...For theatergoers who are tired of the clear-cut eithers and ors of most mainstream playwriting, "Between Riverside and Crazy" is a dizzying and exciting place to be..."Between Riverside and Crazy," which features a superb cast led by Stephen McKinley Henderson, shows no signs of backsliding by its author. It's as fresh and startling as "Hat," but in a slyer, quieter vein...Directed by Austin Pendleton with an authoritative finesse that leaves plenty of interpretive breathing room, the cast achieves the tricky task of creating characters who are both utterly believable and not to be believed for a second.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: ...everyone's bound to be captivated by Guirgis's loudmouthed locals and the terrific ensemble players, led by Stephen McKinley Henderson, who bring them to roaring life in Austin Pendleton's affectionately helmed production...Austin Pendleton has always been an actor's director, and he comes through here with a taut production and a dream ensemble to play Guirgis's colorful and quirky characters...Like it or not, everybody loves Pops. So does Henderson, who plays him with all the contradictions of someone you know, or wish you knew. He can be sweet and sad and kind and cruel and mean and nasty and pigheaded and aggravating and heartbreaking and funny as hell. None of this is beyond Henderson; the amazing thing is, he manages to convey all these messy human emotions in the same scene -- often in the same breath.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Veteran character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson finally gets the leading role he so richly deserves in Between Riverside and Crazy...Playing the central character of ex-cop Walter "Pops" Washington...this alumnus of many August Wilson plays...has created an indelible character who is alternately lovable and defiantly off-putting...Featuring hilariously pungent, profanity-laden dialogue and deceptively complex characterizations, the play feels somewhat rambling in its plotting. But it offers many memorable scenes... As brilliantly played by Henderson, Pops is an endlessly fascinating figure, capable of both casual viciousness...and tender solicitude. But all of the characters register with surprising complexity, with the finely honed ensemble superbly directed by Austin Pendleton fully conveying their often paradoxical behavior.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Now, this wonderful, generous, altogether unpredictable urban tragicomedy by Stephen Adly Guirgis has moved to Second Stage Theatre in director Austin Pendleton's wise and exuberant production. Stephen McKinley Henderson remains riveting...The seven characters are portrayed with luxurious truthfulness, and the subplot about racism and New York police is even more timely. If Broadway were not driven right now by movie stars, this would catapult directly to the mainstream audience it deserves.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: Stephen McKinley Henderson...makes the most of his turn in the spotlight as the wily Pops. Particularly funny -- but also unexpectedly tender -- are his scenes with his sticky-fingered son, Junior (Ron Cephas Jones), and Junior's girl, Lulu (Rosal Colón), who makes up in sweetness what she lacks in smarts...Since the show played the Atlantic Theater last summer, the situations in Ferguson and elsewhere have given "Riverside" an extra resonance. You can feel the audience tense up during the conversations about Pops' shooting. But this is a black comedy, and the dialogue snaps and crackles, especially in the first act. The actors are sneakily funny without looking like they're trying, and director Austin Pendleton makes great use of Walt Spangler's impressive rotating set.

Matt Windman, AM New York: Since "Between Riverside and Crazy" premiered over the summer, the issue of police brutality against African Americans has received significant media attention following the decisions to not indict the officers involved in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown incidents. Even if this restaging came about coincidentally, the play has become timelier and thus more jarring. Henderson (who has appeared in many small roles over the years) delivers a remarkable performance that captures Pop's complexity, in which a benevolent spirit mixes comfortably with hidden anger and nasty, humiliating actions.

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: In the opening scene of Between Riverside and Crazy, the absorbing, highly entertaining new Stephen Adly Guirgis play...a retired cop called Walter is sitting around the kitchen table of his spacious flat on Manhattan's Riverside Drive. He is discussing his meal -- coffee and a slice of pie - with a young man called Oswaldo. New Yorkers who have arrived at this two-hour evening battered by winter weather are immediately drawn into a spiky, expertly played colloquy centred around a warm is easy to forgive dramaturgical untidiness when the dialogue is so lively and the performances, led by the superb Stephen McKinley Henderson as Walter, are so right...Austin Pendleton has given Riverside, which takes place on a revolving set, an impeccably straightforward staging. The movement is in the language much more than in any over-fussy sitting and standing of the actors.

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Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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