By Lucy Komisar
In this dysfunctional family near-soap opera by Stephen Adly Guirgis, the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are all con men, or women. The venue, a middle-class apartment on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, is a place for drive-by scams and attacks that have you shifting the characters between the hero and villain columns. And asking some questions for which answers are never there.
That said, the acting, headed by lead Stephen McKinley Henderson, and direction by Austin Pendleton are fine, as complex but also as hokey as you are likely to see on TV.
It’s 2014. Pops (Henderson now virtually iconic as a black character actor on stage) spent 30 years as a cop before six bullets, fired by another cop, forced his retirement. His wife died a year or so before; his son Junior (Common – he goes by one name) has been in jail for low-level thieving. Junior’s friend, Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar) who he has invited to stay at the place, is also an ex-con. (Pops asks, “But do you know any people who ain’t criminals, Oswaldo?!”
Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Rosal Colón) who says she is a student but may have another profession, is tacky when half-dressed and even full-dressed. And not above manipulation.
Pops sits at the kitchen table in a wheelchair his wife used, though he doesn’t need it. He is channeling injuries he got in the shooting. He’s been fighting the city for eight years for a settlement, claiming the white rookie who shot him, a black man, used the “N” word.
When the son leaves for Baltimore for a weekend rest (no reason given why Baltimore, why rest), Pops says, “Don’t get locked up.”
So, you figure Pops is the good guy saddled with no-account hangers on.
His erstwhile police partner Audrey O’Connor (Elizabeth Canavan) and her fiancé, Lt. Dave Caro (J. Anthony Crane in the performance I saw), are trying to get him to sign a non-disclosure agreement and take a settlement. The city wants it and it would help Caro’s career. Caro threatens that the city could evict Pops from his rent-controlled apartment because of pot-smoking complaints and “the little discount store your son is running,” ie fencing stolen items. He could arrest Junior.
Pops claims, “If I was white, they’d have given me $5 million eight years ago.” So, looks like the cops and the city are the bad guys. (There are some attacks lobbed at former Mayor Giuliani.)
But things start to unravel. Pops was off duty and drinking in an after-hours bar at 6 am. There is no evidence to back up his claim of what happened.
To throw another character into the mix, a Church Lady (Maria-Christina Oliveras) arrives to pay a friendly visit. Which turns out to be a lot more than friendly. Her getting him to take communion is not what that usually means. All for the sake of supporting some orphans in Brazil. Maybe.
The deus-ex-machina involves a $30K diamond engagement ring Dave bought for Audrey.
The play is engrossing as villainy takes over, though it still leaves you wondering about the twists and turns that run into dead ends.
“Between Riverside and Crazy.” Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Austin Pendleton. 2NDSTAGE at Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th St., NYC. Runtime 2:10. Opened Dec 19, 2022, closes Feb 12, 2023. Tues eves & Wed matinees mask-required.