THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reviews Between Riverside and Crazy

An Angry Cop Gets Big Laughs

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer-winning serious comedy gets a staging in Florida

by Terry Teachout

Leo Finnie (Pops), Marckenson Charles (Junior), Arturo Rossi (Oswaldo) in Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis at GableStage. Photo by George Schiavone.

 

The Pulitzer Prize for drama is not infrequently given for reasons other than pure excellence, but on occasion it hits the right target with admirable exactitude. Such was the case when the 2015 prize went to Stephen Adly Guirgis’s “Between Riverside and Crazy,” an uncommonly fine serious comedy about a widowed cop who got shot off duty eight years before and who, now unhappily retired, is stewing in his own acidic juices. By all rights, “Between Riverside and Crazy” should have transferred to Broadway after its highly successful Atlantic Theater Company run, but new plays, funny or not, no longer tend to do well on the Great White Way. Instead it has been enthusiastically taken up by regional theaters. The latest of these companies, Coral Gables’ GableStage, produced Mr. Guirgis’s “The Motherf**ker With the Hat” in 2012 and did it at least as well as the play had been done on Broadway the preceding season. GableStage’s production of “Between Riverside and Crazy” is yet another coup, a bases-loaded four-bagger that will remind anyone who’s still wondering that you don’t have to go to New York to see great theater.

Like “Motherf**ker,” “Between Riverside and Crazy” is a tough-minded domestic comedy about urban life that never settles for been-there-seen-that predictability. Pops (Leo Finnie), the cop who got shot, longs to exact revenge on the New York Police Department for having cynically given him what he believes to be the run-around. Beneath his boiling rage, he’s also a decent guy who wants to do the right thing by Junior (Marckenson Charles), his troubled son, and Oswaldo and Lulu (Arturo Rossi and Gladys Ramirez), two of Junior’s friends who have also taken up residence in his apartment.

Stephen McKinley Henderson, who created the role of Pops in the play’s original off-Broadway production, is one of America’s top character actors. I can say no better about Mr. Finnie than that he makes a wholly individual impression in the same part: His anger is more deeply buried than that of Mr. Henderson, enough so that you’ll jump when it boils over. Ms. Ramirez, who was delectably brassy in GableStage’s “Motherf**ker,” is no less pungent here, and the other members of the seven-person cast leave nothing to be desired in the way of plausibility.

The unusually wide and shallow stage of GableStage’s 150-seat theater is a tough space on which to mount plays that, like “Between Riverside and Crazy,” require multiple scene changes (Walt Spangler’s off-Broadway set made use of a turntable). Not to worry: Lyle Baskin has crammed three railroad-flat interiors and a fire-escape scene onto the stage without breaking anything, and Joseph Adler, the company’s artistic director, has staged the proceedings with his usual directness and clarity. The result is one of the most satisfying shows I’ve seen so far this season.

Mr. Teachout, the Journal’s drama critic, is the author, most recently, of “Satchmo at the Waldorf.” Write to him at tteachout@wsj.com.

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