Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Stephen Adly Guirgis' play Between Riverside and Crazy received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The production now at Washington's Studio Theatre, directed with insight by Brian MacDevitt and anchored by Frankie R. Faison's riveting performance, does what theater at its best is supposed to do: bring viewers into the lives of its characters on a deep level, allowing them to look beneath the possibly off-putting surface to see the truth.
Faison, a commanding performer in size and vocal quality, is Walter "Pops" Washington, a retired New York City policeman living aimlessly in the rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment he shared with his late wife. Now that she's gone, Walter's son Junior (Bryant Bentley), an ex-convict, has moved back in with his girlfriend Lulu (Jasmin Tabriz), along with his friend Oswaldo (Sean Carvajal), a young man making his way back from both a criminal past and drug addiction. They may not all be blood relatives, but they think of themselves as a family with Walter as the patriarch.
Walter has one main grievance: some years earlier, while he was off duty, a white cop shot him repeatedly after finding him drunk in an after-hours club (Walter is African-American). Since then, he's refused to accept the settlement offered by the police. At the same time, the owner of his apartment building is trying to evict him because his rent is one-tenth of the current market value. As a result, he spends most of the time drinking and occasionally sneaking a puff off someone else's joint.
Again, the pleasure of Guirgis' writing comes from the nuances behind the apparent stereotypes. Lulu is a plump Latina who doesn't wear a lot of clothing, but she has her pride; she's going to college and hopes to someday become an accountant. Walter maintains a friendly relationship with Detective O'Connor (Emily Townley), who was his partner when she was a rookie, although he is less comfortable with her fiancé Lt. Caro (David Bishins), who wants him to settle with the department. And things spin off in a whole different direction when a church volunteer (Cristina Frias) stops by for snacks and conversation.
Lee Savage's expansive scenic design incorporates both Walter's lavish apartmentroomy and once grand, although the chandelier hangs crooked and the molding on the walls is grimyand the roof where various characters go for a momentary escape.