BWW Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY at SOUTH BEND CIVIC THEATRE
Controversial topics in theatrical productions have an odd effect on audiences. Some people come to the theatre to escape the problems of the real world, and some come expecting to see the stereotypically bright and shiny golden age musicals. So when either of these people walk into a show like the South Bend Civic Theatre's production of Between Riverside and Crazy, they are in for an unexpected surprise.
Between Riverside and Crazy is an intense and painstakingly realistic story about Walter (Pops) Washington, played exceptionally well by Benni Little, as he struggles to live in his run-down house with his son and his son's friends, while also haggling with the NYPD to make a settlement from an old lawsuit.
I applaud the South Bend Civic Theatre for not shying away from such a controversial show and director Leah Tirado for not holding back any of the harsh realism in the dialogue or blocking. Scenes discuss prostitution, racial discrimination, addiction, abuse, death, etc. Tirado's choices for the show help leave a real impact on the audience, and while it may make people uncomfortable, the scenes are important in order to open the audience's eyes to harsh truths- most notably the last scene in Act 1 in which Tirado adds a brief yet uncomfortably scarring fight sequence.
As far as performances go, the obvious one to highlight is Benni Little as Pops, who steals the show with a cynical yet lovable air about him. His timing for all of his comedy is perfect, and his transition from dramatic to humorous is smooth and subtle. Pops' son, Junior, is played by Jesse Camper who plays the emotionally repressed character with such believable confusion about his father and everyone else surrounding him that the audience immediately sympathizes with his struggle and confusion as we try to figure out Pops as well.
There is also Detective Audrey O'Conner and Lieutenant David Caro, played by Nicole Wilder-Kocsis and Kevin Egelsky, who have brilliant back and forth conversations with Pops that make some of the best scenes in the show. The actors obviously did their studying on their characters because the performances in this show are so well done.
It is important to note, the performance I saw was the performance that Eli Cantu understudied as the character of Oswaldo, normally played by Jorge Rivera-Herrans. Cantu's delivery is dry but not unbelievable. In fact, with all of the intricacies in his facial expressions during every moment on stage, his voice wasn't needed. The same can be said for Elena Lora, who played Junior's girlfriend Lulu. These two speak volumes with their facial expressions, and the intimate space gives the audience the ability to dissect these characters.
The set, by Jen Kaczmierzak, was quaint and pleasant on the eyes. If any complaints are to be had, it would be my usual annoyance with an obvious stage crew moving sets in between scenes and breaking the illusion, and occasionally I felt that the actors/actresses were looking straight into the eyes of audience members. Particularly Wilder-Kocsis, though I believe Little did as well once or twice. During the show, there would be lines that were performed like asides to the audience, which breaks the fourth wall and threw off the scene. I understand in such an intimate theatre that it is hard not to lock eyes with an audience member, but occasional glances break the believability of a scene.
However, that is me nitpicking. It truthfully didn't happen enough for me to be unable to be reeled back into the world onstage. Overall, Between Riverside and Crazy is an important show for people in all walks of life. I would recommend anyone at or above high school age. It is a story that leaves the audience with plenty to discuss and has powerful performances to match it.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY continues performances through June 16th, 2019 at the South Bend Civic Theatre. Tickets are available at the South Bend Civic Theatre, online at www.sbct.org, or by calling (574)234-1112.
Photo Credits: Michael Caterina