BWW Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY Exposes the Complexities of Being Human, at Artists Rep
As soon as you think you've got a handle on the characters and events in Stephen Adly Guirgis's Pulitzer Prize-winning play BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, it veers off in another direction. This isn't trickery (though in some instances it is deception). Instead, it's an acknowledgement that people are complex, as are their motivations for behavior. The play is smart, funny, and moving, and it will definitely keep you on toes.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY takes place in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive in New York city. It's the home of Walter "Pops" Washington (Kevin Jones), a retired cop whose wife had recently died. The apartment is currently inhabited by Pops; his jailbird son, Junior (Bobby Bermea); Junior's sexy girlfriend, Lulu (Julana Torres); and Junior's friend, Oswaldo (Illya Torres-Garner), who's also an ex-con and a former drug addict. It opens tamely, with Pops and Oswaldo exchanging thoughts on dietary choices - Oswaldo's on a health food kick while Pops is eating pie for breakfast. Lulu and Junior traipse in and out, there's a discussion about who's going to walk the dog, and it comes out that the landlord is attempting to evict them.
That evening, Pops' former police partner, Detective Audrey O'Connor (Val Landrum), and her fiance, Lieutenant Caro (Ben Newman) come for dinner and you learn that eight years ago Pops filed a lawsuit against a rookie cop who shot him. O'Connor and Caro attempt to convince Pops to drop the lawsuit, an idea he'll have none of. It seems, at least at first, like the powers that be are trying to bully Pops into keeping his mouth shut about the incident.
As the play unfolds, more details of everyone's story are revealed and the plot takes several sharp turns. Wherever you think the play is going at the end of the first act, I guarantee you'll be surprised in the second.
Director Adriana Baer and the cast handle it all deftly so that the shifts feel entirely natural and the characters internally consistent even as your perception of them changes. Jones, in particular, inhabits Pops in a way that the character feels familiar, even when he acts in ways that are difficult to understand. Torres is great as the kind-hearted but very flighty Lulu. In the end, she turns out to be something of a philosopher, summing up the multidimensional reality of being human in the line of the night: "I may look how I look, but that don't mean I am how I look." And then there's Ayanna Berkshire as the unnamed Church Lady - the less you know about her, the better, so suffice it to say she gives a rousing performance.
Kristeen Crosser's set is a character in itself and it shows the scope of what's possible. The apartment, which has clearly suffered since Pops's wife died, is perfect down to the smallest detail, and there's an impressive movable section that creates various outside spaces, making the theatre feel much more expansive than it actually is.
Overall, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY is a fascinating look at the complexity of being human and the even greater complexity of forming relationships with other complex humans. I recommend it very highly.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY runs through April 1. More details and tickets here.
Photo credit: Russell J. Young