Stephen Adly Guirgis’s portrait of toxic resentment benefits from nuanced performances.
Walter Washington (Eamonn Walker), known to nearly everyone around him as “Pops” or “Dad,” is struggling to hold on to a lot of things that are slipping away. A retired NYPD cop—forcibly retired, after he was shot eight years earlier by a white rookie cop while off duty—Pops is grasping to hang onto his rent-controlled Manhattan apartment, from which his landlords are trying to have him evicted; to his dignity, in the form of the lawsuit he filed against the department after his shooting and stubbornly refuses to settle; and to his own will to live, now that his wife has passed away.
Steppenwolf’s production is remarkably, and lamentably, timely two years after its debut at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company. A well-meaning if condescending visit from Pops’s former beat partner (Audrey Francis) and her ladder-climbing cop boyfriend (Tim Hopper) lays bare creditably complicated about policing, race and what we owe public servants, outside of the force and within it. Guirgis’s characters are hardly ever flat; human unpredictability is as much in the fiber of his work as profanity.
But the second-act appearance of a mysterious woman (Lily Mojekwu) who, uh, sexually reboots Pops’s life comes across as a little embarrassing. Despite solidly grounded performances (even if Walker and Steppenwolf ensemble member James Vincent Meredith, as his ex-con son, read more like brothers onstage), Riverside’s ruminations on redemption and retribution follow a shaky route.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company. By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Yasen Peyankov. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs; one intermission.