Stephen Adly Guirigis’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Between Riverside And Crazy now playing at Boston’s SpeakEasy is an extraordinary play, both funny and disturbing, performed by a wonderful cast.
The protagonist is Walter Washington (Tyrees Allen), known as Pops, a black man and former police officer, who was shot eight years earlier when he was out of uniform and in a bar by a white rooky cop. Since then, Pops has been involved in a lawsuit with the city of New York to receive compensation for his injuries.
Walter’s wife Delores has been dead for six months. She worked in a law office throughout her marriage earning a higher salary than her husband. Her pay enabled them to lease a large rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive for fifteen hundred dollars per month that Delores took good care of and furnished well. The landlord is trying to push Walter out since the apartment could fetch more money if a new tenant occupied it.
Although Pops can be gruff, he is generous and draws people to him. His son Junior (Stewart Evan Smith), a petty criminal who is perhaps changing his ways, Junior’s girlfriend, the sexy not too bright, Lulu (Octavia Chavez-Richmond), as well as his friend Oswaldo (Alejandro Simoes) are living at the apartment as Pops’ “guests.” At the opening Oswaldo is trying to upgrade his life by eating healthful foods, seeing a therapist, looking for a job, giving up drinking and drugs. His relationship with his own father is poor and so he has taken to calling Pops “Dad” as does Lulu who does not seem to have a family. Lulu raises Pops’ spirits when she tells him that she is pregnant. Pops is an alcoholic and a sick man who spends much of his time sitting in his dead wife’s wheelchair.
Walter Washington has invited his former partner on the police force Detective O’Connor (Maureen Keiller), a woman much younger than he, and her fiancé Lieutenant Caro (Lewis D. Wheeler) to dinner to celebrate their upcoming marriage. Detective O’Connor, who seems not to have a father, wants Walter to walk her down the aisle. However, during the evening, Walter discovers that their prime objective is to convince him to accept the city’s offer which entails almost no money. When Walter refuses, Caro threatens to arrest Junior. A quarrel ensues and they leave.
Later, Oswaldo reappears drunk and upset. He went to see his father who insulted him, punched him, and threw him out. Oswaldo demands that the equally drunk Pops loan him his credit card so he can call an escort service. Act I ends.
Act II, scene I takes place two weeks later. Walter, bandaged and carrying a cane, is visited by a beautiful woman, the Church Lady (Celeste Oliva). She wears a large cross around her neck as well as a Condomblé necklace. She speaks of religion, tells Walter that God loves him, and is aware of incidents in his life that it appears she could only know supernaturally. Despite his cynicism, he falls under her spell. She takes down her hair, removes her dress, puts a communion wafer between her teeth and inserts it into his mouth and lies on top of him. They begin to make love although Walter has been impotent since he was shot. She tells him that she needs money for charity in her home country of Brazil. He responds joyously, “Oh hell yeah!” and passes out.
When we next see him he is bedridden and Junior is taking care of him. Rare confidences are exchanged. Like most of the characters in the play, Pop’s problems stem from never having known a father’s love. Much of his life has been a lie.
Although all the actors are good, Tyrees Allen is a standout in a role which takes him through a vicissitude of experiences and moods. Celeste Oliva is marvelous as the mysterious Church Lady who frees Walter of his unhappiness and gives him the strength to live his life as he wants.
Erik D. Diaz’s set is splendid. The apartment which takes up the entire width of the broad stage shows both its days of glory when Delores was in charge and lovingly chose the décor which includes a chandelier over the kitchen table, artwork in the bedroom, armchairs and a couch in the living room, and its present dilapidated state which increases daily. Representing the latter is a dead Christmas tree that was put up by Delores just before her passing. Upstairs, on the roof is a porch, from which the Hudson River can be seen. Lulu and Pop spend time up there smoking marijuana.
A.W. Nadine Grant’s costumes suit the characters to a tee. For example, Lulu is very clothes-conscious and wears sexy numbers that expose her body while Lieutenant Caro who hopes to move up in the world wears ill-fitting clothing that demonstrates his lack of money and taste.
Tiffany Nichole Greene’s direction is on the mark. The show is well timed and its comedy, anger, and sadness are deeply explored.
Between Riverside And Crazy continues through October 13.
This article first appeared in Capital Critics’ Circle on September 18, 2018, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.