By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Yasen Peyankov
At Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
“Even cops hate cops,” Pops says. “Everybody especially don’t like black cops. Black civilians think we Uncle Tom. White civilians think we’re uppity.” – from Between Riverside and Crazy
Riveting, rowdy dark comedy features richly contradictory characters superbly acted and directed
I have been a fan of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis for many years. His raw and realistic use of street vernacular with his fully developed and extremely vulnerable and humanly contradictory characters give him a voice as a storyteller. His plays featured flawed little folks who defy society’s odds as they struggle against its norms. His use of street language plays like a kind of urban lyric poetry. His Between Riverside and Crazy is a mixture of raw dark comedy with elements of mystery, urban magical realism, and dramatic tragedy. Between Riverside and Crazy is fantastic storytelling that covers with humor, pathos, and expert plotting, a worthy story quite contemporary to today’s racial tensions, especially in relation to cops and shootings.
Ultimately, this riveting play deals with the paradoxes that become the contradictions that we all are. What we say, our language seems to be filled with deceptions. Guirgis has his characters trapped in their past as they seek to gain or regain their personal dignity and respect from society.
Ex-cop “Pops” Washington (the tour de force performance by Eamonn Walker) and his ex-con son, Junior (James Vincent Meredith), struggle to keep their rent-controlled large Manhattan apartment. Pops has an assortment of low-life houseguests and free-loaders as he plows through current costs, eviction threats, and the pressure to settle his lawsuit against the city of New York and the NYPD. Pops has, over the last year, buried his wife and he still has complications from being shot six times by a rookie white cop while dead drunk in an after-hours low-life bar.
Pops is a tough, determined, and quite stubborn African-American soul who struggles with drink and self-esteem while trying to regain his personal dignity. His journey is engaging theatre as he holds out for more than money as the police try to cajole him into settling his lawsuit.
We meet an amazingly colorful assortment of characters including Hispanic gang-banger Oswaldo (terrific turn by Victor Almanzar), plus Lulu (Elena Marisa Flores) who looks like a street-walker, and with two cops, Pops’ ex-partner Detective O’Connor (Audrey Francis) and Tim Hopper as Lieutenant Caro. But the funny yet blasphemous scene with Pop and the Church lady (Lily Mojekwu ) reshapes more that just Pops’ libido. We easily empathize with these seemingly tough yet fragile folks as emotions flare as their paradoxes play out.
Add the wonderful, two-level apartment set (designed by Collette Pollard) based on the look and feel of playwright Guirgis’s Manhattan apartment and the set becomes a character in the play! Riverside is filled with several monologues that are full of social commentary. Quotes like this one from Lulu: “I may look how I look, but that don’t mean I am how I look” add rich insights and honest humor and some sex.
Without giving away more, Between Riverside and Crazy is a master work, a terrific night of theatre as well as a timely honest look at racial issues especially dealing with cops. We see Eamonn Walker as the Battalion Chief on the TV series Chicago Fire-now see Walker in a fabulous live turn as the flawed ex-cop. Between Riverside and Crazy is one of the best plays of 2016, don’t miss it.
Date Reviewed: July 9. 2016
For more info checkout the Between Riverside and Crazy page at theatreinchicago.com
At Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, IL, call312-335-1650, www.steppenwolf.org, tickets $20 -$89, Tuesdays thru Fridays at 7:30 pm, limited Wednesday matinees at2pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission, through August 21, 201