by Lynn on December 1, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, Toronto, Ont.


Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Directed by Kelli Fox

Set by Anna Treusch

Costumes by Michelle Bohn

Lighting by Steve Lucas

Sound by Deanna H. Choi

Cast: Claire Armstrong

Zarrin Darnell-Martin

Sergio Di Zio

Allegra Fulton

Jai Jai Jones

Nabil Rajo

Alexander Thomas

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play Between Riverside and Crazy pops with Guirgis’ dazzling dialogue, quirky, full-bodied characters and moral dilemmas with which to grapple. And director Kelli Fox and her wonderful cast, realize all of it.

 The Story. Between Riverside and Crazy was written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, the celebrated and award-winning American playwright.  It’s about Walter Washington, a black, former cop who was shot by a white cop, six times, eight years before and ever since Walter has been seeking justice and financial compensation. He feels the shooting was racially motivated.  His wife died a few years before.

Walter is surrounded by troubled people he has taken in to live in his rent controlled Riverside Drive apartment. There is Junior his son who has been in and out of jail on various offences. There is Junior’s friend, Oswaldo who is out of jail and trying to stay sober. And there is Junior’s girlfriend Lulu who may or may not be an accountant student or a hooker.  Walter’s former partner, Detective O’Connor and her fiancée Lt. Caro urge him to take a settlement. He refuses. He wants his fair deal. While Junior, Oswaldo and Lulu seem to drift in life, and Detective O’Connor and Lt. Caro have their issues too, Walter is the focus and he has his wits about him. He wants the best for everybody and especially himself and has patience to get it. But there are twists and revelations along the way.

 The Production. Anna Treusch has designed Walter’s well-kept apartment. A kitchen is up at one end big enough to have a table and chairs for eating. This leads to the living room with lots of mementos and cushions in neat, comfortable chairs and next to that is the bedroom with a bed that is made with neat pillows and more cushions. One gets the sense that Walter is carrying on from how his late wife kept the place.

When the play begins Walter (Alexander Thomas) sits in his kitchen in a wheelchair. It’s not his chair. It’s his late wife’s and he just likes it around because it reminds him of his wife. Oswaldo (Nabil Rajo) pops raw almonds and tries to tell Walter to eat healthier foods. They are joined by Lulu (Zarrin Darnel-Martin) dressed in tight fitting panties and a bra. She flounces, prances and saunters around the kitchen as if she owns it. She kisses Walter and calls him “Pop” but is not related to him. Later they are joined by Junior (Jai Jai Jones) Walter’s son. He is laid back, secretive, cool.

Walter invites his former partner Det. O’Connor (Claire Armstrong) and her fiancée Lt. Caro (Sergio Di Zio) over for an evening. O’Connor wants him to make a good impression. As Det. O’Connor, Claire Armstrong has that huge smile of wanting to please, showing off her fellah to her old partner and wanting everything to work out. Sergio Di Zio plays Lt. Caro as a man trying to make a good impression so he laughs too hard at Walter’s jokes or something O’Connor says. He drinks too much and O’Connor frets, occasionally indicating that he should tone it down. Both Claire Armstrong and Sergio Di Zio beautifully play their scene as people hiding something that will be revealed soon. And it does come out eventually.

As Walter, Alexander Thomas handles all this with a world-weary awareness and street-smarts. You get Walter’s love and regret for his son; his frustration with a system that has discarded him; his lamenting his lost wife and his big heart. He reads the situation and keeps the information to himself until he needs to make a point. And then he meets his match in a character known simply as Church Lady (Allegra Fulton) and believe me there is nothing simple about this woman.

Alexander Thomas handles Stephen Adly Guirgis’ muscular, musical dialogue with the finesse of a poet. He has the gaze of a poker player and never tips his hand. It’s a fierce performance that never overwhelms the play.

Kelli Fox directs this with a sharp eye and a keen sense of humour. She stages everybody beautifully as well as directs them with care and attention to detail. The humour is direct and subtle at times and always realized in Kelli Fox’s direction of it.

The whole cast is wonderful but special mention should be Allegra Fulton as Church Lady, buttoned up and demur in the beginning. This is a performance of meticulous detail, nuance, subtlety and so much comic invention she is mesmerizing. Church Lady feels that Walter could benefit from being given communion. Church Lady gives that a whole new meaning in a scene that is so sexual and raunchy I think several people crossed their legs as they watched it.  It’s a masterful performance and a terrific production.

Comment. Stephen Adly Guirgis writes about people who are unremarkable in the scheme of things but who just want to get through the day (Note his plays: The Motherfucker With a Hat, Our Lady of 121st Street as other examples). Oswaldo keeps trying to keep sober. Junior wants to get ahead just once and leading them all, steady and methodical, is Walter. He knows “bs” when he hears it and calls it out. He can see through Oswaldo and Junior and even Lulu but he has a big heart and keeps carrying them by letting them live in his apartment. He keeps holding out for what he feels is his rightful outcome in his court case, even when we find out the shady bits of the story. Walter is a man who in his own way—the Stephen Adly Guirgis way—has a certain tenacity, a determination that sees him through. In his own way Walter brings out the good in the people around him. Society might look askance, but it’s fascinating to see these characters get a bit more backbone in their dealings with ‘the system.’

Opened: Nov. 27, 2019.

Closes: Dec. 22, 2019.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, approx.


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