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NY1 Theater Review: 'Between Riverside and Crazy'

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Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is known for works like "Our Lady Of 121st Street," "Jesus Hopped the A Train," and the Tony nominated play with an explicit title—we'll just call it, "The [blank] With the Hat." This past week, the Atlantic Theatre Company debuted a new work from Guirgis called, "Between Riverside and Crazy." NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

It’s a rare off-Broadway play that gets applause even before the first line is uttered. But that’s how it is with Stephen Adly Guirgis’ gritty new dramedy Between Riverside and Crazy, though. While Walt Spangler’s rotating apartment setting more than deserves the accolades, the entire production is exceptional, earning ecstatic applause at beginning middle and end.

Like most of Guirgis’s works, the style is hyper-natural populated by assorted street characters—cops, druggies petty criminals—average city folks, except they’re all really funny. Guirgis has that special gift of writing dialogue that’s cynically truthful, yet supremely entertaining.

Walter Washington, played to perfection by Stephen McKinley Henderson, is a grizzled ex-cop living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. Eight years earlier, he was mistakenly shot six times by a white cop. Money is tight, but even though the city offers to settle with him, he stubbornly refuses.

His son, Junior, who deals in stolen goods, urges him to take the offer. Walt's former NYPD partner Audrey, along with her fiancee, an ambitious police lieutenant, pressure him as well.

We also meet Junior’s girlfriend, aptly named Lulu, and ex-con friend Oswaldo and there's a mysterious church lady. They’re all tied together in an intricately woven plot that’s both richly themed and compelling.

Austin Pendleton sublimely directs an ensemble that can’t be topped. I do have to single out Michael Rispoli’s brilliantly subtle performance, looking like he stepped right out of the precinct station house. And, of course, Henderson, an artist who nails every line-reading, convincing us that Walter is equal parts teddy bear and shark.

Henderson and several others in the cast are veterans of August Wilson’s works. Not surprising, since Guirgis and Wilson share a deep understanding of human nature in all its tragicomic glory. If it’s not apparent by now, yes, I am crazy about this work.

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