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Between Riverside and Crazy

  • Theatre, Drama
  • Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Between Riverside and Crazy, Hampstead Theatre, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy, Hampstead Theatre, 2024
    Photo: Johan Persson

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

It’s ‘Antigone’ with rent control as Danny Sapani stars as an embittered ex-NYPD cop in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s entertaining Pulitzer winner

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Pulitzer-winning play is a meaty watch, a pungent, spikey mix of laughs, tears and doomed defiance that centres on a multiracial group of misfits headed by Danny Sapani’s retired NYPD officer Walter. 

Boozing away his enforced retirement in a palatial but semi-dilapidated rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan (a nicely grungy set from Max Jones), Walter’s law enforcement past hasn’t in any way discouraged him from taking in a selection of semi criminal waifs and strays, notably his own son Junior (Martins Imhangbe), Junior’s ditsy, possibly-a-prostitute girlfriend Lulu (an excellent professional debut from Tiffany Gray) and their edgy addict pal Oswaldo (Sebastian Orozco) – all of whom call Walter ‘dad’.

Much of Guirgis’s writing here is about unhurriedly enjoying the characters, and in this respect Michael Longhurst’s production very much rises (slowly) to the occasion. Fresh from playing a very different troubled patriarch - King Lear at the Almeida - Danny Sapani is excellent as recent widower Walter, who combines an extreme amount of not giving a shit with an unshakable sense of honour. 

After pleasantly meandering for a bit, it gets into gear when a couple of ex-colleagues come to visit Walter with a message from the Government of the City of New York. As opaquely alluded to earlier, Walter’s career was ended six years ago when a young white officer mistakenly pumped him full of lead; he has spent the intervening years campaigning for heads to roll; the City wants to settle but is running out of patience with Walter; his harbouring of criminals in a prime piece of rent-controlled real estate has been noticed.

What ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ ultimately boils down to is a conundrum that’s been sloshing around in drama since at least ‘Antigone’. Walter has been seriously wronged and wants justice. But is it realistic to believe that he’s going to get it? Or his principled stand essentially kamikaze theatrics that threaten to hurt the ones he loves to no possible gain?

It’s a timeless dilemma that’s been deftly retooled by Guirgis to ask questions about life in contemporary America. There’s no capricious pantheon of unseen gods here. But fulfilling the same role is the City government, whose power over Walter’s life is absolute: his rent control and the offer of compensation - heck, his freedom and that of his family - are all boons that the City can and will take away if pissed off.

It’s familiar, but as it gains momentum it becomes increasingly thrilling, and increasingly weird, too, the hallucinatory introduction of Ayesha Antoine’s nameless Church Lady really throws a different quality into the mix - a suggestion that perhaps there may be some divine presence in this godless city. 

The play won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Drama back in 2015. I do wonder if a decade passing and its specificity to New York City might take something away from it in London 2024. And it feels like it hems itself in towards the end, with Walter’s final fate looking like it’s going to end up as either a tragic or a happy cliche (and yup, it goes for one of them). 

Incredibly we’ve got two more Pulitzer winners premiering here in the next couple of months: Sanaz Toossi’s ‘English’ at Kiln and Kaitori Hall’s ‘The Hot Wing King’ at the National. I’d probably hope for a bit more from both of them than we get here. But it is, nonetheless, a pleasure to spend time amongst Guirgis’s crew of misfits.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski


Hampstead Theatre
Eton Avenue
View Website
Tube: Swiss Cottage
£35-£55. Runs 2hr 30min

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