BWW Review: BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY says what needs to be goddamn said at COAL MINE THEATRE
A typical breakfast for Walter Washington (Alexander Thomas) consists of whisky and pie, whipped cream if there's any left. He's an old man with more health issues that you can count; you might say he's courting death, but fate's been playing games with him for a long time. After thirty years of service as one of New York's finest, he got shot up by a possibly racist, definitely trigger-happy rookie while drinking at an after-hours club.
Now Walter sits at home with his whisky and his pie, his late wife's wheelchair, and the young people he lets crash at his palatial, rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive: his son, Junior (Jai Jai Jones), Junior's girlfriend, Lulu (Zarrin Darnell-Martin); and Junior's friend, Oswaldo (Nabil Rajo). The kids call him Dad, which is weird, but Walter likes it. Makes him feel like a man.
In life, we all get dealt a hand the moment we're born. The choice is whether to play it or try for better cards. Walter Washington never knew his own father, but he kept trading in his cards, refusing to become a wanderer, a deadbeat. He got a job on the force, an apartment, a family, a spoon collection. Still, the world kept dealing him 3's and deuces. Getting shot forced Walter into early retirement so he could watch his wife take ill and die before his eyes.
That's why when Walter finally has a chance to make a play, he takes it. For years he's been in negotiation with the NYPD and the city, demanding compensation and hoping to make a point. Now his ex-partner, Detective O'Connor (Claire Armstrong) and her fiancé, Lieutenant Caro (Sergio Di Zio) have given him the leverage he needs to stake his claim. It's an election year, the city wants to settle. Walter goes all in.
Walter is in many ways the worst kind of man. He is neither principled nor practical. He resents the good fortune of others but refuses to do right by the people who love him. In this sense, Walter is wretched; also in this sense, he is perfect. Walter's flaws are universal, his obsessions, uncomfortably recognisable. He is the petty but truthful voice that screams inside all of us, only he doesn't give a damn anymore, doesn't hold it in. He says what we are ashamed to.
Why should they have all the luck?
Alexander Thomas as Walter Washington is a minor force of nature, an undetected hurricane that mumbles onto shore and tears trees from the ground. His best scenes are the ones he shares with Sergio Di Zio, an electrical storm that can't be contained and shoots off in every direction. Every member of director Kelli Fox's robust cast is dynamic, exciting, small until they're big, there until they're not.
Set designer Anna Treusch's work in Coal Mine's intimate, tiny space on the Danforth is transportive. Her set takes you not only into the home of Walter Washington, but into his life, his history. Props by Kayla Chaterji populate the space like solid memories, each thing a thing with a story. Their work tips BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY over the edge, from a play to an experience, a place, a time, an idea, a broken promise, a plan that unfolds all around you.
Coal Mine isn't Toronto's biggest theatre or its newest or oldest. But it has, I think, a clearer artistic identity than any other joint in this city: a quest to constantly transform itself, to surprise audiences each time they enter with a new set, a new story. It is Toronto's brilliant shoebox.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY runs through 22 December at Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto.
For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz