It is not often that I see a play that starts off at a high point and continues to keep me glued to the story for the entire duration. The Chicago Premiere of “Between Riverside and Crazy”, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. now on stage at Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s “downstairs” did just that! For two hours (with a ten minute intermission) I found myself peering into the life of “Pops” Washington ( an absolutely amazing portrayal by Eamonn Walker), an ex-cop who lives in a wonderful rent-controlled apartment in a fashionable section of Manhattan. This is a man who faces many obstacles in his day-to-day life. “Pops” is “everyman” and is surrounded by what one might call “losers”; a son, Junior (deftly handled by James Vincent Meredith), his best buddy, Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar) and Junior’s girlfriend, Lulu (a spirited performance by the lovely Elena Marisa Flores). Junior and Oswaldo are ex-cons that “pops” is trying to save.
“Pops” was an officer in the NYPD, and some 8 years earlier, was shot by another police officer, who just happened to be white, while “pops” is an African-American. This detail makes us think about all the recent incidents where police officers have shot at Black individuals and in many cases, there was no threat. As we are told the details of the life of “pops” Washington, we learn that he was shot several times , losing the use of some of his body parts and that his wife, who was ill, passed away shortly after. He has hired a lawyer to sue the city for the event and is hoping that it will be resolved very soon. There was an offer to settle made many years ago, which he refused and now, the city feels that they do not need to pay him, as it was declared an “accidental incident”. “Pops” does not believe this to be the case.
His ex-partner, Detective O’Conner (sharply played by Audrey Francis) and her fiancée, Lieutenant Caro (another dynamic performance by Tim Hopper) are trying to put the pieces together so that they can resolve the situation. But the question arises as to why. Are they concerned for “Pops”? Or, could getting this lawsuit resolved and settled help the Caro advance in his position, allowing the couple to get married with a greater income picture in which to place these characters ? Smoothly directed by Yasen Peyankov on an amazing set (Collette Pollard) that shows us a large apartment with a great roof-top , terrific sound and music (Josh Schmidt) and effective lighting (Scott Zielinski) giving us a picture to place these characters in. The furniture is somewhat old and shabby, but one can see the elegance of this amazing apartment on Riverside Drive and realize that a police officer, even one on disability, if it were not for rent-control could never live in a place like this.
This is a story that is filled with contradictions. Each member of the household, from “Pops” thru Lulu has problems and has made some bad choices in their lives. Can “Pops” find the justice that he deserves? Can his son go “straight” and can the other people surrounding his life change their ways to make “Pops” final years better for him? Are “Pops” ex-partner and her husband-to-be really concerned for his well-being or are they only looking out for their best interest? The story unfolds in spectacular fashion as directed by Peyankov, and I will avoid giving away some of the little tricks Guirgis uses to make his point.
There is another character in this play. One that will surprise you as well as “Pops”. She is known as The Church Lady ( superbly played by Lily Mojekwu’) and what she does to transform “Pops” is one of the highlights of this production. In fact, one might say that her scene with “Pops” is worth the price of admission on its own merit- a great piece of acting and a solid look at life and one of its hidden mysteries. Guirgis builds characters that are very real, and while they are what people call “the little Guy”, he brings them up in stature through his language and spirit, in this case, assisted by a brilliant cast of players and a director who truly understand the writer, the cast and the characters. By the way, this play won the 2015 Pulitzer for drama- well deserved! FYI- while it is a drama and has a storyline that may seem somewhat tragic, there are many moments filled with laughter. Let’s face it, life is composed of ups and downs, sadness and comedy- so allow yourself to laugh where it is funny, care when it is sad, and understand that our society needs to respect people for who they are, period!.
“Between Riverside and Crazy” will continue at Steppenwolf thru August 21st ( I would think an extension will be forthcoming) with performances as follows:
Wednesdays 7:30 p.m. (8/3-8/17 add 2 p.m. performances)
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m. (8/6 3 p.m. performance OC)
Sundays :7/10 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (ON)
7/17 and 7/24 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
7/31 3 p.m. and &;30 p.m. (ASL)
8/7 3 p.m.
8/14 1:30 p.m. (TT) and 3 p.m. (AD)
8/21 3 p.m.
Tickets range from $20-$89 and can be purchased at the box office located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
The above letters indicate OC=open caption
ASL=American Sign Language
AD= audio description
TT= touch tour for more info, visit www.steppenwolf.org/access
Discussions are also done following performances- check schedule on website. Student discounts with valid ID and don’t forget, 20 at $20 program where 20 tickets are available on day of performance at 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. on Sundays. RUSH tickets for half price are subject to availability- check with box office, again on day of performance.
Street parking is available in the area and there is garage parking just south of the theater at Steppenwolf Garage.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Between Riverside and Crazy”. There is a lot of language in this show.