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Between Riverside and Crazy

  • Theater, Drama
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Stephen McKinley Henderson in Between Riverside and Crazy
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusBetween Riverside and Crazy

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Broadway royalty Stephen McKinley Henderson holds court in Stephen Adly Guirgis's punchy dramedy.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Honesty is a suspect policy in Between Riverside and Crazy, Stephen Adly Guirgis’s profanity-laced love letter to New York City seediness. Its characters are so enmeshed in ulterior motives and lies—the ones they tell each other and the ones they tell themselves—that their seeming excess of candor can never quite be trusted. Behind the fronting they present to the world are messes of guilt, regret and greed—but also hope, affection, maybe even love. Like Guirgis’s Pulitzer Prize–winning script, which features 35 uses of the s-word and 85 uses of the f-word in 90 pages, they’re all a little full of shit, with more fucks to give than they let on.  

This being a play by the author of Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, plenty of conflict is on the horizon. At the eye of the gathering storm is the magnificently human and self-assured Stephen McKinley Henderson as the cuddly-irascible Walter “Pops” Washington, a retired Black cop who lives in an enviably spacious apartment on Riverside Drive. (Walt Spangler’s revolving set lets us see it in all its sprawl.) Mourning the recent death of his wife, he spends his time parked in her old wheelchair, moping and toping around the place—"a rent-controlled Palace ruled by a grieving despot King," per the stage directions—attended by shady younger courtiers: his resentful son, Junior (Common), who has been in and out of prison and now traffics stolen goods; Junior’s airhead girlfriend, Lulu (Rosal Colón), who claims to be in accounting school; and another ex-con, Oswoldo (Victor Almamzar), a reformed drug addict on a fitness kick. The latter two dote on the curmudgeonly Walter and call him “dad,” but his relationship with his actual son is fraught. (“Hurry up and become a fuckin’ man already, son,” he tells Junior. “So I can break a hip and drop dead in peace.”)

Between Riverside and Crazy | Photograph: Joan Marcus

Although Between Riverside and Crazy is often bitingly funny, a shadow of violence hangs over it. Eight years earlier, Walter was shot by a white policeman in an incident that may have been racially motivated; since then, he has refused to drop his lawsuit against the city. The play finds him torn between settling and rising. His former partner (Elizabeth Canavan) and her new fiancé (Michael Rispoli), an ambitious police lieutenant, show up—at the behest of City Hall—to gently strong-arm him into accepting a deal (“We’re all cops here, Walter, right? No black, no white—just Blue”). Pulling him in a different direction is a visitor (longtime Guirgis muse Liza Colón-Zayas) from his church, who offers a tantalizing chance at spiritual salvation. 

“This ain’t about no black white or blue,” says Walter. “This is about the green.” But money is just one of the factors that play into his sense of paralysis, and Guirgis paints in a wide range of colors. In veteran director Austin Pendleton’s well-balanced production, they are brought to life by an ensemble of actors whose comfort with one another is tangible: Aside from the rapper-turned-actor Common, who makes a solid Broadway debut, the cast has been with this play since its Off Broadway debut at the Atlantic Theater in 2014 and subsequent extension at Second Stage (which is also behind this delayed transfer). The earthy Rispoli and the divine Colón-Zayas, in particular, are unimprovable in their tricky roles. But it is Henderson who, as Between Riverside and Crazy’s gravitational center, holds it all together. He’s a perfect combination of rent and controlled, and his deceptively natural star turn is the twisted, generous soul of the play.

Between Riverside and Crazy. Helen Hayes Theatre (Broadway). By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Austin Pendleton. With Stephen McKinley Henderson, Common, Rosal Colón, Liza Colón-Zayas, Michael Rispoli, Elizabeth Canavan, Victor Almanzar. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission. [Note: In 2023, the role of the Church Lady is played Maria-Christina Oliveras.]

Note: The performances from January 29 through February 12 will be simulcast live. Tickets for that broadcast cost $59.

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Between Riverside and Crazy | Photograph: Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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