URBAN GENTRIFICATION, NY CITY COPS, AND A CHURCH LADY MAKE THIS “CRAZY” BRILLIANT
The Geary stage is crackling this fall as A.C.T. opens their 49th season with Stephen Aldy Guirgis BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. The 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for best play is brilliant and gritty. The cast headed by Carl Lumbly (“Alias” and “Cagney & Lacey”) is excellent. Guirgis is well known as an edgy current writer that comes from the heart of the street and current issues. His past work “Jesus Hopped a Train” and “The Mother F with the Hat” keeps that urban spirit edge, more so than any Tracy Letts play. A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff says "With every play he writes, Guirgis's language becomes more explosive and more hilarious. For me, Between Riverside and Crazy is both wickedly funny and incredibly trenchant; in the midst of our own housing crisis in the Bay Area and when issues of displacement, gentrification and police behavior are so present, this play brings us right into the heart of contemporary urban contradictions.”
The issues in RIVERSIDE deal with an urban family, headed by retired police officer Walter “Pops” Washington played by Carl Lumbly. The story takes place in a Manhattan apartment gritty and lived in, designed by Chris Barreca, who always adds character to his sets. This one called for a lighted christmas tree and the subtext of time stopping works so well. Barreca’s high ceiling set transforms into a rooftop and a perfect space to take some of the action. Pops who has just lost his wife, is faced with an eviction, and heavy drinking and letting his son Junior host his friends at the apartment, creating an extended family for his dad. Junior exposilvey played by Samuel Ray Gates, is just out of prison, has moved back in along with his hot girlfriend, Lulu played enthusiastically by the excellent Elia Monte-Brown. Oswaldo is also lodging at Riverside, the ex-felon played by Lakin Valdez, both call Washington “dad”. While dealing with his sons friends, Pops is worried about his regular visit from a Church Lady who works with him since his wife's passing. The sexy sensuous Catherine Castellanos plays the conniving lady from the Church who is filling in for the regular lady. Castellanos does a wonderful job changing the mood of Lumbly’s arch, she is hilarious and keeps the first act popping and leaves us guessing as the first act ends.
Pops who is doing his best to keep his apartment, as the genderfication landlord wants him and his son gone. Washington also has a lawsuit with the NYPD, a fellow officer plugged Pops with six slugs in a mistaken identity case. His two cop friends are on hand to encourage him to drop the eight year case. Lt Dave Caro well played by local favorite Gabriel Marin and Stacy Ross is excellent as Detective Audrey O’Connor. Mixed in this chaos Pops is a non stop drinker and battles with a little dog Lulu brings to the house. The fast paced dialogue and action with the luring tension is so well directed by Irene Lewis, it is very engaging and entertaining. Lewis direction is near perfect and her staging with the apartment and all its depth is powerful.
Lumbly is amazing as Pops and teamed with Marin who both appeared in “Jesus Hopped the A Train” and “The Mother F__ker with the Hat” at the SF Playhouse. Their tension and timing as they fight over the lawsuit is brilliant. Lumbly is an icon on Bay Area stages - if you get a chance to see his charm and timing on stage, you are certain to agree. Valdez proves his successful spirit from his years with “El Theatro Campesino”, and is amazing as he embodies the mood changes of Oswaldo. The war with Junior and Lulu and the fast wit between all three and “Dad”, snaps and pops with depth and character that we have come to expect from Guirgis. The story comes to a poetic end from a most talented cast and funny/crazy dangerous playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY is sure to be one of the classics and if you have yet to see a production at ACT - this is a great piece to start with. It is on stage at the Geary stage until Sept 27th.
American Conservatory Theater presents
'Between Riverside and Crazy'
By Stephen Adly Guirgis, Directed by Irene Lewis
Through: Sept. 27 - Geary Theater, 415 Geary St., San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes; one intermission
Tickets: $20-$100; 415-749-2228, www.act-sf.org
Next up is: Monstress opening September 16 at the Strand Theatre and O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! at the Geary Theatre on October 14th.
Photos Kevin Berne