Between Riverside And Crazy
Review by Willard Manus

Somewhere early in the second act of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, the Stephen Adly Guirgis play now running at the Fountain, I realized what a bad play it was. Until then I had gone along with its over-cooked, banal dialogue and melodramatic story, thinking the playwright would somehow overcome the play's weaknesses and redeem what had gone before. Instead, with the appearance of a Church Lady (Lisa Fernandez), a cross between a Catholic lay worker (pun intended), a Santeria witch, and a hooker, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE collapsed completely, leaving the stage in ruins.

photo: Jenny Graham

This distressed me, because I had been looking forward to seeing the play, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2015. Also, I'd liked what I'd seen of Guirgis' previous work, especially "The Motherfucker With the Hat," which was produced in L.A. two years ago by the Gifford Conservatory.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY tells the story of Walter "Pops" Washington (the admirable Montae Russell), who spent thirty years as a black cop and soldier (Viet Nam). Retired and recently widowed, Pops is a bitter old coot with a heart of gold. Furious with the NYPD for not having taken his side when he was shot by an off-duty white cop in a Harlem after-hours joint, Pop rails against his former employers while creeping around his rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment in a wheelchair. When he's not accusing the NYPD of racism, he's swilling whiskey and scarfing down slabs of apple pie.

Living with him are his ex-con son, Junior (Matthew Hancock), whom he tolerates and supports despite knowing that he hides stolen electronic goods in the apartment. To further strain credulity, Pops also allows Lulu (Marisol Miranda), Junior's hot Latina girlfriend (stereotype alert!) to live free of charge with him. Same goes for Oswaldo (Victor Anthony), a dim-witted but likable junkie trying desperately to stay clean.

"You're all family to me and can stay as long as you want," Pops tells them, even though he's on the verge of losing the apartment, owing to his stubbornness and stiff-backed pride. The NYPD has offered him a deal: settle your dispute with us by signing non-disclosure deal and all your pension and housing rights will be restored.

photo: Jenny Graham
This comes out in the play's strongest scene, between the hard-assed Pops, his former beat-partner, Det. Audrey O'Connor (Lesley Fera) and her fiancé Lt. Dave Caro (Joshua Bitton). Audrey and Dave have their own agenda (currying favor with the NYPD) but they are also fond of Pops and sincerely believe he should compromise and take the deal.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY spends a lot of time on this internecine NYPD struggle, but it's hardly the stuff of compelling drama. Guirgis seems to know this, which is why he suddenly brings in the Church Lady to teach Pops something about grace and forgiveness, even as she's sprinkling holy water on him and trying to help him raise an erection. "I can feel again!" he shouts, reminding me of Peter Sellers in "Doctor Strangelove," when he suddenly salutes Hitler's portrait and bellows, "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!"

Sorry for the low blow, but that's what BETWEEN RIVERSIDE did to me, made me want to kick it below the belt. Remarkably, Guirgis' deeply-disappointing play was well acted and directed. Don't know how they did it, but the actors and director somehow managed to work their magic and keep me in my seat for two and a half hours.

(The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. Call 323-663-1525 or visit