Masterful performances anchor the timely Between Riverside and Crazy, now on stage in Toronto
Coal Mine Theatre has brought American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy to Toronto, and this production packs one hell of a punch. It’s a timely show, particularly relevant in these times of growing political, social and economic strife.
An unorthodox tale of David and Goliath, Between Riverside and Crazy tells the story of a retired New York City police officer, Walter “Pops” Washington, living in the aftermath of an accident some eight years earlier. As the story goes, Pops, who is Black, was shot six times by a White rookie police officer, while drinking off-duty in a bar. Left injured by the shooting, Pops has been relentlessly pursuing a discrimination case against the New York Police Department, alleging that the White officer targeted him for being Black, before firing away.
In the ensuing years, Pops has become consumed by his war with the NYPD. Meanwhile, his wife has passed away, and his son “Junior” has been released from jail and moved back home. With him, Junior has brought his girlfriend, Lulu, and friend, Oswaldo, who also spent time in jail. Pops’ home, of central importance to the story, is a rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side. As the show unfolds, his legal battle reaches a fever pitch, eventually coming to a wildly unexpected climax.
Pops, played masterfully by Alexander Thomas, is the heart and soul of this show. Thomas offers an enduring, spirited, can’t-take-my-eyes-off-of-you performance. He is, for much of the show, as tough as nails and a force of unrelenting hardness. And yet, he evolves on stage, becoming surprisingly tender and light.
His co-stars bolster the show, offering exemplary performances across the board. In particular, Jai Jai Jones is emotive and moving as Junior, Zarrin Darnell-Martin is sensual and comedic as Lulu, Sergio Di Zio is increasingly irate as a ruthless NYPD officer, and Allegra Fulton is entirely thrilling as a scheming, one-time lover.
Moreover, the set (Pops’ apartment), designed by Anna Treusch, is unavoidably intimate. The set is level with the main floor, and audience seating curls around it. No real estate in the theatre is taken for granted; I felt steeped in Pops’ apartment, which made the ever-looming threat of eviction all the more palpable. Hats off to director Kelli Fox, too, for staging the cast in such a way that the set felt like a palatial apartment.
On the whole, this is a show that’s filled with the struggles of life: the old hurts we carry, the fears of the future we harbour, and the messy ways in which families try to find their way forward, together, while misfiring frequently. Its characters and performances are soft, hard, angry, bitter, corrupt, terribly funny, and truly, touching. It’s about taking back your power, no matter the cost.
- Between Riverside and Crazy is playing until December 22, 2019 at Coal Mine Theatre (1454 Danforth Avenue).
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm, and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm.
- Ticket prices range from $47.50 – $55.50 (plus HST), and subject to availability, rush tickets may be available 45 minutes before showtime for $25 (cash only) at the door.
- Tickets are available online, or in person at the box office.
Photo of Allegra Fulton and Alexander Thomas by Dahlia Katz