I saw the last preview before tonight's opening of Between Riverside and Crazy, a new play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, a highly regarded playwright whose The Motherf**ker with the Hat was nominated for six Tony Awards. I'd seen that play, somewhat flawed by tremendously well acted, at the Studio Theater in DC last year.
What should I say about Between Riverside and Crazy?
Bedecked with references to Game of Thrones and Whole Foods, it's a play very much of its time and moment. It has some tremendous scenes in it. It has lots and lots of laugh lines, and the audience was clearly having a very good time. I expect it will be popular and get some good reviews.
But honestly, it's not a very good play.
It takes around 40 minutes of a play that's around 2:10 with intermission to get to its point, to the extent that it has one.
The lead character, name of Walter "Pops" Washington, is a former NYPD officer, who was shot six times by a white rookie officer eight years ago, and has a lawsuit going against the city. There's pressure coming down on behalf of the powers that be from his one-time partner and her fiancee for him to agree to a settlement, because it's not looking good for his case after eight years. The public has turned its attention elsewhere. He's suffering since his wife died, having trouble paying the rent on his apartment, his son is off-and-on, more on, with criminal troubles with the police. So after around 40 minutes of engagingly written, lively, sometimes funny, sometimes touching, but ultimately going nowhere scenes, we finally get to this confrontation. Which is great.
Then the curtain comes down on Act One with a cliffhanger. Which resolves like most cliffhangers. And Act Two has four or five scenes that just don't go anywhere, like most of the first act.
Part of the problem is that we don't care about the characters. "Pops" is an alcoholic. If he isn't soaking in his drink, he's stewing in his bitterness. Stephen McKinley Henderson does a great job playing the part, but the part goes nowhere. We see a man who's less pleasant to be around than he thinks, with less going on upstairs than he thinks. His "adversaries," Elizabeth Canavan as his one-time partner and Michael Rispoli as Lieutenant Caro, get as much as they can out of their roles, which are probably more fully realized in the script than anyone else's and then boosted a little beyond by the performances, but I didn't want to hang around with any of the people hanging around in Pops' apartment, and even accounting for the fact that some of them are family, they're the family I don't think I'd want to see other than at Thanksgiving.
I hate to come down hard on a play that has some lively writing and lots of good laugh lines, but I generally prefer plays that don't have me wishing for more brightly lit scenes to provide more reflected light in the auditorium to allow me to do more of my crossword from my seat in Row C.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.