Thursday, February 12, 2015

Margin Notes: Between Riverside and Crazy

Stephen McKinley Henderson as Pops.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Between Riverside and Crazy

Seen on: Friday, 1/23/15.
My grade: B -. Well enough done, but a rather inconclusive narrative for my style.

Plot and Background
Walter "Pops" Washington, a retired cop and widower, is living out his remaining days in a bit of a siege - refusing to settle on an 8-year-old suit against the city for some friendly fire that forced his retirement, ignoring threats of eviction, and providing shelter for his ex-con-current-small-time-criminal son, his son's shadier friend, and his potential daughter-in-law. Tensions rise as his old partner and her ambitious fiance try to leverage a settlement against his family's home and freedom, and question the truth behind his claims. Stephen Adly Guirgis's play had its New York premiere in 2014 at Atlantic Theater Company with a sold out run, and has now transferred to 2nd Stage.

What I Knew Beforehand
Pretty much nothing about the play itself. I knew it had transferred from a run last year at Atlantic Theater Company, and that it was Stephen McKinley Henderson's big break into leading role (he's been in every TV show and play ever, but often in sidekick or supporting roles). And I knew some of Stephen Adly Guirgis's other work - The Motherf*cker with the Hat, primarily, and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.


Play: While the play was definitely well-structured, with turns and reveals at every step that were both surprising and also somehow inevitable, I didn't find myself connecting particularly strongly to the story itself. Maybe it's that I kept feeling let down by characters I initially liked - no one quite living up to their potential, no one whom they professed initially to be. Manipulation is not an attractive trait to me. That being said, I didn't find myself bored or tuning out - I wanted to see how all this would fadge, even if I didn't necessarily emotionally invest in particular characters' outcomes. And it was worth it to see Stephen McKinley Henderson just exist onstage - a full, nuanced, vulnerable and abrasive performance.

Cast: Stephen McKinley Henderson is such a familiar face, the quintessential Hey It's That Guy, that everyone feels they already know him well - that's an old friend up there on the stage. And he steps into the star spotlight with a quiet unsurprise, as if he's always been there and we just didn't notice. His presence is strong, and serves as the gravitational center around which the other characters - and the set - all revolve. The rest of the ensemble does competent work, with Rosal Colon's Lulu and Victor Almanzar's Oswaldo giving sympathetic portrayals as some of the wayward souls harboring in Pops's home, but it really is all Henderson's show - and he makes a meal out of it. This is worth seeing for his performance alone.

Design: The set is a clever rotating piece, showing various rooms in Walter's aging Riverside rent stabilized apartment, full of the clutter, high ceilings, french doors, stained walls, and old moulding one expects. The costumes become more telling as the play goes on, as when Junior wears his father's robe and sits in his chair in the kitchen, or with the changes to Church Lady's wardrobe in the second act. Ryan Rumery's music is a somewhat hypnotic series of tones that help move us into Pops's world, where things aren't quite connected to a practical reality, but where if his will is strong enough, even the absurd is achievable.


Running: now playing at 2econd Stage Theatre - Opening February 11, 2015. Closing: March 8, 2015
Category: straight play
Length: 2 hours, including intermission

Creative Team

 Stephen Adly Guirgis
Director: Austin Pendleton
Designers: Walt Spangler (Set), Alexis Forte (Costume), Keith Parham (Lighting), Ryan Rumery (Original Music & Sound).
Cast: Victor Almanzar, Elizabeth Canavan, Rosal Colon, Liza Colon-Zayas, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Ron Cephas Jones, Michael Rispoli.

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Elizabeth Canavan, Michael Rispoli, Rosal
Colon, and Ron Cephas Jones as Pops, Audrey, Caro, Lulu, and Junior.
Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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