Reviewed Performance: 8/20/2022
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play, Between Riverside and Crazy, won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. After enjoying Stage West’s fantastic production, it is obvious that the Pulitzer Committee awarded wisely.
The setting for this riveting play is an apartment in contemporary New York City. The set and props are composed of painstaking detail. A brick-lined outdoor space features mismatched chairs and take-out container trash. A cluttered eat-in kitchen provides clues that this is not a play about teetotalers. A living room harbors a clearly dead tree sporting Christmas lights and unwrapped presents, along with a smattering of authentic household items, such as an elaborately embroidered pillow and small American stick flags huddled in a pencil holder. A sick room includes a hospital bed, stacks of boxes, vases with dead flowers, framed pictures of white Jesus and Mother Mary holding a heart and hymnal respectively, and blood (or other bodily fluid) stains on the carpeted floor.
The complicated set is a prelude for the characters themselves and their shifting allegiances and desires. Like the characters, the apartment is full of contradictions. The carpet stains and dead plants war with the beautiful chair rail molding. This was once a gorgeous apartment, but tragedy is in the air.
Tyrees Allen immediately holds court as Pops (aka Walter Washington), who insists on eating, and drinking, his breakfast in his late wife’s wheelchair. Pops is cantankerous, irreverent, and hyper-articulate. Allen is phenomenal, and this play demands a bigger-than-life performance. Pops drives the play much like Willie Loman is the beating heart of Death of a Salesman, or Scrooge is ever-present in Christmas Carol.
Stage West is reliably first rate, and the opportunity to see a drama of this caliber should not be missed. There is a realism to this potent work, which leaves many questions unanswered and open for interpretation. I love great acting and I highly recommend Between Riverside and Crazy.