Arts theater review

No offense, but get out

Riveting and contemporary, ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ premieres in New England

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Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Stewart Evan Smith, Tyrees Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Maureen Keiller appear in SpeakEasy Stage's production of 'Between Riverside and Crazy.'
Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

Between Riverside and Crazy
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene
Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts
Sep. 14 – Oct. 13

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s trademark coarse-grained dialogue returns in the New England premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy, an explosive comedy about an ex-cop bitterly fighting against eviction and injustice. Mounted by SpeakEasy Stage, which previously staged Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat, the production is a thrilling and humorous depiction of urban life in New York with all of its challenges and contradictions.

Between Riverside and Crazy centers around Pops, played by Tyrees Allen, who lives in a rent stabilized apartment worth 10 times what he pays. Against the landord’s will, Pops houses his son Junior (Stewart Evan Smith), Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Octavia Chavez-Richmond), and the ex-convict Oswaldo (Alejandro Simoes). The housing situation brings Pops into confrontations with his former NYPD partner, Detective O’Connor (Maureen Keiller), and her fiancée, Lieutenant Caro (Lewis D. Wheeler), as they battle over the settlement of the case which halted Pops’s career.  Rounding off the eclectic cast is the Church Lady (Celeste Oliva), who righteously condemns Pops’s way of life in her own unique fashion.

The cast of this production is all-around excellent, especially in the case of Allen as Pops. Allen delivers a captivating performance that skillfully navigates both the fiery expletive-laden arguments as well as the tender confessions. Allen’s performance as a father figure is so convincing that it even extends meta-theatrically — while Pops acts as the bedrock for the other characters, Allen provides a solid foundation for the other actors and the production as a whole. Wheeler’s performance as Lieutenant Caro, one half of the self-proclaimed well intentioned yet ultimately malicious white couple, is also of special mention. While I found his friendly exchanges during the beginning a bit unnatural, his intensity in the later scenes is memorable and riveting. I was also rather impressed by the comedic timing of Chavez-Richmond and Oliva as they expertly mined for laughs despite the minor roles of their characters.

Design-wise, the most striking aspect of the production is the set’s width, creating a panoramic view for audience members closer to the stage. Most of the action in the play focuses on one side of the stage, so you never have to turn rapidly back and forth between characters. There can be some shifting during scene transitions, however, so there is a tradeoff in seating between intimacy and field of view that one might want to take into consideration. Aside from that, the set design conveys the disorganized and decrepit qualities of Pops’s apartment and how they reflect onto Pops’s character. The incidental music choices were also effective in evoking mood, especially during the play’s conclusion.

Underneath the raucous language and contemporary references, Between Riverside and Crazy richly explores themes of caretaking, adulthood, and the irrational complexities of human interaction. For example, Oswaldo’s opening speech about almonds from Whole Foods and Ring Dings skillfully foreshadows the importance of abandonment and the father-son relationship while excavating the world in which the characters live. Deceptively layered and thought-provoking, the SpeakEasy Stage production of Between Riverside and Crazy deftly captures the vigorous pulse of contemporary New York City.