BWW Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY at Fountain Theatre
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, which makes its Los Angeles debut at The Fountain Theatre, is a hard-hitting drama about wanderers, those unattached, ungrounded people who lack the support to make smart choices, but still deserve grace and hope. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2015, the play features all that one expects from playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis: incisive dialogue, complex characterizations and relationships that are unique but also relatable. The cast and director Guillermo Cienfuegos serve the play well.
Pops (Montae Russell), an African American ex-cop and war veteran, hobbles around his rent-controlled apartment due to a shooting almost ten years ago when a Caucasian cop "accidentally" shot him six times at an underground, after-hours bar. With a mayoral election looming, the establishment, represented by Pops' ex-partner (Lesley Fera) and her police lieutenant fiancé (Joshua Bitton), wants Pops to settle the case that has been an embarrassment to the mayor's office. Pops is still furious: angry at his colleagues who abandoned him, at the city who threw him away, and at his beloved wife for dying on him several years ago. However, Pops' sorrows began way before the shooting. Pops' placement at this illegal bar sloshed drunk at 6 am does not permit a rookie, potentially racist cop, to gun him down, but it is indicative of an unhappy life before the accident and the loss of his wife. Pops percolates with rage in the apartment he shares with his son Junior (Matthew Hancock) who runs an illegal electronics scam out of his bedroom, Junior's girlfriend, Lulu (Marisol Miranda), a former prostitute with a bit less emphasis on the former, and one of Junior's ex-con friends Oswaldo (Victor Anthony), a drug addict who struggles to stay clean and considers Pops to be his adopted father.
Guirgis, whose Broadway hit THE MOTHERF&$%ER WITH THE HAT brought him prominence, provokes frustration and also faith in his characters. He reveals everyone at their ugliest but remains anxious for them to find peace and resolution. His dialogue is modernistic and conversational, so the audience feels they're eavesdropping on a family mid-conversation.
Russell captures Pop's intensity, determination, and pride, yet his focus seemed off during the matinee performance, and he jumbled his lines several times. Hancock treats Junior as a decent man on the wrong track, one who just needs a second start. Britton is appropriately slippery as the self-serving Lieutenant, while Fera ingeniously reveals her character's motives with non-verbal reactions, particularly in moments that appear to be cheerful and stress-free, so that she becomes a harbinger of the fireworks to happen. Miranda is vivacious and hyper-sexual as the girl desperate for a family. Anthony is heartbreaking as the former addict who gets triggered by his past and sinks back into horrific behavior. He manages to be nasty and worthy of comfort at the same time. As a mysterious church lady in Act 2, Liza Fernandez steals the show as a coy religious Brazilian who may only understand several words but is able to cut through Pops' bullshit to his core.
Director Cienfuegos evokes a lived-in, natural approach in staging his actors and setting the scene with his technical team. David Mauer's set includes props that emit a home that has been occupied for years, including a Pictionary game half-opened, an extra-large cereal box that looks like it was thrown on top of the fridge after a late night pillage, and living room that looks worn out but had once been the hearth of a loving family.
As the poster for Wes Anderson's THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS proclaims "Family is not a word, it's a sentence," BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY sees family (both blood and chosen) as the weight to pull us down and the rope to lift us out of the muck. It's a double-edged sword, but one that can provide solace if you allow it.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY plays at the Fountain till December 15th. Tickets can be purchased at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34420. For more information on the show, http://www.fountaintheatre.com/event/between-riverside-and-crazy/