Produced by: The Stage
Directed by: Jeffrey Lo
Fight choreography by: Will Springhorn Jr.
Featuring: L. Peter Callender, Juan Amador, Tiffany Tenille, Rondrell McCormick, Allison F. Rich, George Psarras, Damaris Divito
Running time: 120 minutes, one intermission
When: November 21-December 16, 2018
Where: The Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose
Tickets: $30-$72. Call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org
'Between Riverside and Crazy'
"Between Riverside and Crazy" is a meaty, meaningful and funny play that leaves an audience with loads to ponder, partly because much of it is not what we first think it to be.
Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and plenty of other awards, this Stephen Adly Guirgis play leads the audience down many paths that at first seem familiar, but turn out to have unexpected twists and turns.
The laughs-filled journey eventually leads to a host of human revelations and deep perceptions.
The production at San Jose Stage is centered around a magnificent performance by L. Peter Callender, a truly great actor whose every movement earns our eyes and our admiration.
His face alone offers multiple meanings at once — it can be filled with love, scorn, anger, pride and more, all at the same time. And when he limps up out of a wheelchair to go after another drink, he shows us a sick old man whose every movement is pain.
It’s a shock when Callender sprints out from upstage to take a bow at the end of the play.
Callender stars as Pops, who uses his late wife’s wheelchair not because he needs it, but because it’s comfortable. He is old and cranky and stubborn, not wanting to settle an eight-year dispute with the city even as his rent-controlled lease is threatened.
He is after some greater truth. That his truth eventually turns out to be something else is one of the many ironies, twists and turns built into the exquisite architecture of this story.
Pops may be irascible, cranky and foul-mouthed, but he is also generous, letting his son, Junior (who is just out of jail), live with him, along with Junior’s girlfriend, rent-free. Another freeloader is Oswaldo, a recovering addict.
The girlfriend, Lulu, is played by Tiffany Tenille, who on a gorgeous scale of 1 to 10, is at least an 11 or 12, and when she bends over in some tight shorts, Pops yells out, "Lord! Full moon rising!"
The dialogue throughout is very human, and very New York, where the play is set. "We ordered that Denzel movie that looks good but isn’t," says Lulu, and everybody knows what she means.
Rondrell McCormick is a very sincere and caring Junior, although sometimes he rushes his dialogue, which can make him hard to understand. He and Pops argue about whether Pops should accept the city’s settlement for when he’d been a cop, and was shot six times by another officer.
A white officer who’d called him "nigger," according to Pops.
Junior and Pops argue, but when Junior leaves on a trip, he says, "I love you, Pops." And Pops responds by saying "Don’t get locked up!"
Juan Amador is a strong presence and plays a key role as Oswaldo the addict, whose bouncing, nervous knees tell us quite a bit about him, even as he sincerely thanks Pops for letting him stay.
George Psarras, who’s been an effective and versatile actor for City Lights, TheatreWorks and many other places, is both grating and funny as Lieutenant Caro, who is trying to get Pops to sign the settlement.
A Stage regular and now associate art director Allison F. Rich is Detective Audrey O’Connor, who was the rookie partner of Pops before he was shot, eight years ago. She loves him and wants the best for him — and also wants the best for the ambitious Lieutenant Caro, who is her fiancé.
Caro won $30,000 gambling, and spent it all for her engagement ring.
One of the show’s bigger and funnier surprises shows up in the second act, in the always beautiful and charming personage of Damaris Divito, as the church lady.
She is substituting for the regular church lady, and it is her job to get Pops to take communion. He resists, even as she — in broken English, she is from Brazil — tells him she knows things. Secret things.
"Knock off this jungle boogie!" he says.
But she persists. "I can heal you," she says.
"No one can heal me," he says, but she proves him wrong in a shocking and hilarious scene. Wonderfulness.
Much of the play hinges on the fight between the stubborn old man and what he says he believes, and on the ambitious Lieutenant Caro’s desire to get the settlement, to improve his career path.
The ending is surprising, and satisfying. It’s a very good show.
The set, by Christopher Fitzer, is very involved and effective, given the odd open space of The Stage. The dog poop on a newspaper next to an ottoman was a particularly amusing detail, even though we never actually see the dog.
Ashley Garlick, who was brilliant a few months back in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at The Stage, designed the costumes, including Lulu’s shorts.
This play is a very involved dance of meanings and levels and humor and ironies, and director Jeffrey Lo did a brilliant job making it all work.