‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ There’s Only a Void

 By Ernest Kearney  —  While watching a stage magician’s performance there is an unavoidable disappointment when one can plainly see the plexiglass boxes beneath the surface of the water he’s supposedly walking on, or when we catch a glimpse of the metal rod he’s standing in front of that holds the “levitating” woman aloft. 

It’s the same type of disappointment experienced when one sits too close to the stage during the ballet where you can hear the thumping of their Capezio’s against the wooden boards as they complete a grand jeté and their gasps for air as they prepare for a series of cabrioles.

We don’t want to be reminded that magic is nothing but tricks and ballet dancers can’t really fly.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy, at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, suffers a similar shortcoming.

Pops Washington (Montae Russell) is a black, former New York cop who is on disability after being shot by a young white officer, while off duty at a bar.  Now he struggles to maintain body and soul, while his lawsuit against the city is pending.  He shares his apartment with his son Junior (Matthew Hancock), and his pregnant girl friend (Marisol Miranda) and Oswaldo (Victor Anthony) a young street hustler trying to straighten out his life. 

Pops is visited by his former partner (Lesley Fera) and her fiancé (Joshua Bitton) who are trying to convince him to drop his case against the department and settle.  He’s also visited by a caregiver (Liza Fernandez) sent by a local church.

The cast is excellent across the board and I can find no fault in them.

I find it all in the play.

Things happen, conflicts occur, characters evolve, but overall, for me at least, there was nothing organic or surprising about any of those happenings, occurrences or evolutions. 

Guirgis has loaded Between Riverside and Crazy with events and discoveries – the suspicion of racism motivating Pops’ shooting, the descent back into drug abuse by one of the characters, the threats of retaliation against Pops if he pursues his suit, the estrangement of his son, a brutal assault, and the revelation that Pops perjured himself in accusing the white officer of calling out racial slurs as he shot him.  

These are all situations that should have borne gravitas, and yet they are deployed about the stage for the sole purpose of serving the playwright’s intention to craft a feel-good crowd-pleaser with all the gravitas of a case of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.

There are no repercussions involved.  That is the major flaw that I find in the play. The individual who beats Pops viciously enough to land him in the hospital re-appears in the final scene making baloney sandwiches with chocolate Ring-Dings and nothing comes from Pop’s baring false witness against a fellow police officer.

There is no character logic involved here.  After eight years of impotence, Pops’ libido is resurrected by what amounts to a lap dance.

There is contrivance here and a good deal of that. What would entice “ahhhs” from the audience?  How about Pops leaving with the dog he’s disparaged all throughout the play?

“Ahhh.”

This is not a play for serious theatergoers; this is a play meant to entertain busloads of tourists visiting the “Great White Way” from Ohio.

Now normally this would be an acceptable undertaking.  What is somewhat grating is that this patchwork of insipidness — more of a creative contraption than a dramatic creation — actually won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

There is no explanation I can offer for this.  I find it hard to believe that the production in New York could be superior to that at the Fountain, or the cast stronger.

Perhaps it just comes down to that as far as the Pulitzers go you basically have two categories. 

In one you have theatrical works the likes of Our Town, A Streetcar Named Desire, Death of a Salesman, Sunday in the Park with George and Fences.

In the other, you have the rest.

Between Riverside and Crazy now joins the ranks of The Shrike, That Championship Season, They Knew What They Wanted, The Old Maid, Hell-Bent Fer Heaven and Icebound.

Let me close this review by mentioning that my lovely wife Marlene “absolutely loved” this play, and Marlene possesses a refined and discerning sensibility having read the entire canon of Thomas Hardy, Jane Austin and Fyodor Dostoevsky. 

(On the other hand, she is addicted to The Real Housewives of New Jersey and never misses a rerun of The Partridge Family.  Go Figure.)

_____________________________________________________________________________  

Between Riverside and Crazy 
has been extended
until
JANUARY 26, 2020
at

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)

Box Office
Contact & Hours

(323) 663-1525

boxoffice@fountaintheatre.com
Monday-Wednesday 11 – 6pm
Thursday-Saturday 11 – 9pm
Sunday 11 – 5pm
or until showtime on
performance days

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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