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"Between Riverside and Crazy" Photo credit: Jenny Graham

Stephen Adly Guirgis play "Between Riverside and Crazy" is one of those scripts that plays very differently outside of New York.

If you're a New Yorker, it's a neighborhood play. You know these characters. You see them every day on the subway. Someone you know has an amazing rent-controlled apartment that costs them next to nothing. You get that that apartment lease is a bit like a lottery ticket. You also get that a battle with the landlord (or the city) is part of everyday life.

It's not that the play doesn't translate beyond the five boroughs - it does - it's just different.

That rent controlled apartment in "Between Riverside and Crazy" is one of the two cogs in the plot. It belongs to a retired, black New York cop. The circumstance of that retirement is the other cog.

You see eight years ago, this cop was shot by another cop - a white cop. The details are a little murky but you discover them slowly - and they're the basis for a lawsuit against the city that our black cop, our protagonist, has been nursing as a punishing grudge.

When the play opens, things have come to a head. The rent controlled apartment lease is being threatened by that lawsuit. It's good cop versus bad cop. The question is … which is which?

What gives the cops who still have badges leverage over our protagonist are his kids. Well, they're not all his kids but they all call him "dad." Living in this multi-bedroom apartment off Riverside Drive, are his son (who's probably fencing stolen goods), his scantily clad girlfriend (who may have been a prostitute), and his son's convicted felon friend who's tenuously sober.

The apartment is home to this scrappy group. And it's under threat because if "dad" doesn't settle his lawsuit against the police department - they'll take it all away.

Now, if you're a New Yorker - this all makes perfect sense. The same way if a play about LA hinged around your favorite taco truck moving or how disruptive 3 days of rain is to your entire existence - would make perfect sense to an Angeleno.

"Riverside and Crazy" is still a great play outside of New York - it's just a different play because you start asking questions: "wait, what's the deal with this apartment?" "Why do the cops need to settle this lawsuit" et cetera, et cetera. Rather than just rolling with the play, you pause to interrogate it.

That's tricky because, as good as it is (after all it won Stephen Adly Guirgis a Pulitzer)... it’s really good - still, it requires a couple of leaps of faith because Mr. Guirgis just assumes you get it: you understand the whole apartment rent-control/landlord issue. If you start poking at why exactly it's so important for one character to get another character to settle the lawsuit - you’ll get lost.

And Mr. Guirgis is already playing with tone and character. What makes "Between Riverside and Crazy" a fun play is that you can't quite pin down if it's a gritty drama or a dark comedy or morality play - when in fact, it's all three.

So even though the five boroughs are on the other side of the continent, go see "Between Riverside and Crazy" and enjoy great acting in a space that’s probably smaller than that rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive.

“Between Riverside and Crazy” plays at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood through January 26th.

Credits

Host:
Anthony Byrnes