“Between Riverside and Crazy” Review: A Titanic Stage Performance

The riveting play “Between Riverside and Crazy,” which premiered on Broadway Monday night, begins with a Christmassy bait and switch: in one of the rooms of a sprawling apartment, we see a Christmas tree.

But there are no carols, presents and cocoa to match the merriment out in Times Square, for Stephen Adly Guirgis’ dramedy is set in a New York summer. Living in Upper Manhattan, the characters just didn’t bother to lug their pine trees to the curb. It’s hot outside.

theater criticism

Two hours and 20 minutes, with one break. At the Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th St.

The holiday decor on Walt Spangler’s set during this sweltering time of year says a lot unexpectedly about what’s about to happen in this contested household as the story unfolds. Some of the information that the sharply written characters will admit and which we unreservedly accept is not true.

People we love become people we can’t trust and back again.

As patriarch Walter, delivering a stunning performance by Stephen McKinley Henderson, says resignedly, “Who knows anyone, you know?”

Walter is a retired NYPD police officer and widower with an adult son named Junior (Common, on his Broadway debut). He lives with Junior and his friend Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar) in a huge, rent-controlled house on Riverside Drive that doesn’t seem to get much cleaning.

Walter (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a retired cop, invites Lt.  Caro (Michael Rispoli) to dinner.
Walter (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a retired cop, invites Lt. Caro (Michael Rispoli) to dinner.

The former officer is both sweet and salty. Oswaldo and Junior are ex-convicts and the still generous Walter lets them live with him rent-free. But the man everyone just calls “Dad” waves annoyed hugs away and calls out people’s BS at every opportunity.

When his old partner Detective O’Connor (Elizabeth Canavan) meets her fiancé Lt. Caro (Michael Rispoli), an ambitious NYPD bigwig, drops by for dinner, details of Walter’s traumatic past are revealed and his very existence is threatened by those close to him.

Guirgis’ compassionate play, painstakingly directed by Austin Pendleton, is also hilariously funny – actually more hilarious than many current comedies – and devilishly inappropriate. His dialogue rightly fails to attempt to clean up how cops and convicts might talk, and he also notes that no one is a saint here.

As a junior, Common develops a touching relationship with his father, Walter (Henderson).
As a junior, Common develops a touching relationship with his father, Walter (Henderson).

Common successfully and admirably makes his first major stage appearance in Broadway’s smallest house, seating only 597, and in a supporting role. Although the track isn’t Junior’s – it’s Walter’s – there’s complexity behind the rapper-actor’s warmth. He has a checkered past of his own and knows many of his father’s closely guarded secrets, but he always wants what’s best for his father. Junior, navigating his tumultuous relationship with girlfriend Lulu (Rosal Colón), is both touching and kitty-corner for an episode of “Seinfeld.”

And Colón and Liza Colón-Zayas are gifted comedic talents as the churchwoman who visits Walter. Who knew the sacrament and the word prophecy could be so funny?

Junior (Common) and Lulu (Rosal Colon) have a touch-and-go relationship.
Junior (Common) and Lulu (Rosal Colón) have a touch-and-go relationship.

However, it is Henderson who makes the stage shake. The marvelous actor, who has been a regular in plays by August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry for years and in such far-flung movies as ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Dune,’ presents his career and the Broadway season.

He makes complicated Walter a million things at once – endearing, frightening, calculating, indifferent, reserved, authoritative, stand-up comic, drunkard – which combine into an indomitable theatrical force. It’s not the kind of flashy, articulate role we usually praise out of habit. Walter often just watches. But as played by Henderson, he’s a man you won’t soon forget.

https://nypost.com/2022/12/19/between-riverside-and-crazy-review-a-titanic-stage-performance/ “Between Riverside and Crazy” Review: A Titanic Stage Performance

Emma Bowman

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