Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Between Riverside and Crazy

As its namesake suggests - Second Stage Theater has given a second chance to a first rate off-Broadway production, Stephen Adly Guirgis' Between Riverside and Crazy, originally seen last season at the Atlantic Theater just a few blocks south.

Aptly directed once again by Austin Pendleton and acted by almost all the original cast in it's debut production, this incarnation seems to pick up just where it left off - even growing and gelling as it ages.  The ingenious rotating disk set by Walt Spangler transforms a small stage into an entire apartment plus a rooftop off to the side.  I d not know the history of the production at the Atlantic but would assume, after experiencing it first hand (the second time around), that there was likely much interest in this work and the Atlantic just couldn't house it under its own roof.  I applaud 2ST for snatching it up and extending its life.

Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson) helms the ensemble piece like a old pro.  The aging retired and injured black police officer navigates his tumultuous life (The Riverside part) after the force with his less-than-stable family situation (The crazy part) ever-present in his life.  Supporting his fine performance are Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar), Detective O'Connor (Elizabeth Canavan), Lieutenant Caro (Michael Rispoli), Church Lady (Liza Colon-Zayas), Lulu (Rosal Colon), and his son, Junior (Ron Cephas Jones).

Mr. Guirgis' characters are real and present.  Most are complex rather than one-dimensional.  The story he weaves is both specific and modern.  However, because Pops is complex, he is able to weave an air of mystery into Pops' motivations and actions which mostly succeeded.  If I had to point out one thing which may need to be improved it is the speed at which the ending comes out of nowhere and concludes the show.  Somehow this probably needs to be slowed down an backed up into the show with a bit more so the effect is smoother.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Delicate Balance

When I returned home from this play I was satiated.  However, In order to not feel like an idiot, I had to something I almost never do - read the other reviews.  Why you might ask?  I was both amazed and confounded at the same time.    This play is a doozy.  Acerbic dialogue.  Seemingly simple characters and one of the most absurd plots I have ever seen is such a seriously dramatic play.   After reading the various reviews, my soul was assuaged.  I had indeed not read too much into the plot and taken away, I think, what was intended despite the absurdity.  I think.

Agnes and Tobias (Glenn Close and John Lithgow) are the Queen and (albeit emasculated) King of their luxurious suburban domain.  They have their issues.  Indeed we get some insight into their issues.  Some of everything about them is a part of all of us.  They are uncomfortably familiar.   Claire (Lindsay Duncan) is the drunk sister living seemingly untethered to money and job for free at home (doesn't everyone have one of these?).  Julia (Martha Plimpton) is the clearly over-privileged 36yo daughter coming home after her 4th marriage has failed to inevitably butt heads with her parents.  Edna and Harry (Claire Higgins and Bob Balaban) are the neighbors/best friends who really throw the whole thing into the shitter when they arrive and announce that out of an undefined fear - they are moving in.  Literally moving in.  Queue to absurdity.

Acting was superb all around although because the story takes an absurd turn you are always reminded that this is acting.  How could this really be natural?  It's not.  But that issue aside (you'll have to take that one up with Mr. Albee) the plot moves along swiftly and with biting purpose a whole lot of love, disappointment, and plenty of vitriol all wrapped up in one 3 act play.

This play has been done before and this cast will inevitably be compared to the past.  While I don't think this cast surpasses the bar set by its predecessors, it certainly succeeds in living up to the high expectations of the author.

The single set by Santo Loquasto is grand, except for the placement that at least ⅓ of the audience can't see - the grand staircase  - as it is set too deep on stage left (hint: if you're in the orchestra, sit center of left).

Left itself is indeed a delicate balance.  Take care not to disturb it.  Your neighbors just might move in.