Kindness Can’t Kill Systemic Disease: “Between Riverside and Crazy”

Oswaldo and Pops at breakfast. Photo by Nile Scott Studios

Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene
Fight choreography by Greg Maraio
Dialect coaching by Kelly Sabini

Sept. 14 – Oct. 13, 2018
Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
Boston, MA
SpeakEasy on Facebook

Review by Kitty Drexel

“I may look how i look. That don’t mean I am how I look.”  – Lulu

(Boston, MA) Fuck the police. Fuck them for killing Black people at unprecedented rates. Fuck them for killing gay/queer/trans people because they can. Fuck them for raping women while in uniform. Fuck them for #bluelivesmatter. Fuck the police and their scare tactics, faulty de-escalation training, and their playing to the sympathies of ignorant white people. No one should die of a routine anything because a trigger happy cop couldn’t keep their shit together. Fuck them for making small changes and expecting big credit. Fuck the police and the lame white horse they rode in on. Fuck the goddamn police.

Between Riverside and Crazy (BRAC) is about Walter “Pops” (Tyrees Allen) doing the best he can with the increasingly terrible hand that life has dealt him while retaining his minimal dignity. He’s a retired beat cop who got shot up while off duty by a white rookie. Pops has fought the NYPD for eight years for just compensation for his injuries. Det. O’Connor (Maureen Keiller) and Lt. Caro (Lewis D. Wheeler) attempt to convince him to settle. Meanwhile, Oswaldo (Alejandro Simoes) is 90 days sober and trying to clean up his act. Junior (Stewart Evan Smith) and Lulu (Octavia Chavez-Richmond) might be expecting a baby.  Somewhere in all of this, Church Lady (Celeste Oliva) delivers unto Pops an epiphany. BRAC is about racial politics, class war, and playing dirty when playing fair is no longer an option.

Watching this play is like watching a game of chicken in which there are no winners, only car crashes. The City is taking everything that Pops values so he burns every bridge he’s built. Cops O’Connor and Caro are brown-nosing, career hungry hypocrites so focused on their objective that they’ve convinced themselves that they’re doing the “right thing” as they sell-out their very souls. The three aren’t likable or respectable, but they are people we can relate to;  Pops is a Dad trying to keep as much as the Govt. takes away. The cops are business people attempting to finish a business transaction successfully. It’s not supposed to be personal. Except that it is.

SpeakEasy has assembled a stellar cast. The character and voice work by Smith, Chavez-Richmond and Simoes are well executed. Wheeler and Keiller switch “good cop/bad cop” roles evenly and effectively. But, without a doubt, the best performances are by Tyrees Allen and Celeste Oliva.

Allen dominates the stage as Pops. He portrays a man who is clearly still mourning the loss of his wife and his failure to manipulate the systemically racist institution that manipulated him first. Pops attempts to be a good man (he takes in addicts, and deadbeat kids) but he isn’t blind to the evil residing just outside his doorstep. Allen as Pops exudes a certain charm; he’ll be good to you so long as you give something in return. He skirts a fine line between aggressive ignorance and political cunning. We believe that Pops will respond to politically motivated aggression with impotent rage until we realize he’s more capable than we realize.    

Oliva tramps her way onto the stage, makes a deep impression on our psyches, and sashays off the stage. Church lady is creepy, but also sexy? She draws you in like a moth to a flame. You want to touch, but know you will get second degree burns… And crabs.

Fight choreo by Greg Maraio looks safe. It tells the story effectively while also assuring audiences that actors are safe.  

Director Greene’s work with such a complicated play is exemplary. Her characters have clear motivations, obligations, and goals. The scenes melt together in tempos that serve the larger context of the play. The technical elements meld with the actors’ stage work. BRAC is not a friendly play by any means, but Greene’s direction makes the micro-aggressions and the class dissimilarities more accessible to an audience lacking in nuance comprehension.  

Based on Between Riverside and Crazy and The Motherfucker with the Hat, one could argue that Guigis doesn’t write likable characters. He writes recognizable, human characters with clear objectives and no scruples. The racism in this play punches down until it culminates into one hell of a punch up. It’s not illegal for anyone to scream obscenities at cops during an arrest. Cops shouldn’t use their clout to hurt people. Fuck the police.  

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