Stephen Adly Guirgis has an almost unmatched talent for writing dialogue. From the inept burglars in Den of Thieves to the titular Motherf**ker with the Hat, his casts sound completely authentic even when what they are doing isn’t completely familiar. Guirgis’s skill creating deep believable characters allows the audience to take a little trip inside a world that is simultaneously commonplace and new.
This gift is in evidence in his latest theatrical work, Between Riverside and Crazy, now playing at 2second Stage Theater after a run at the Atlantic Theater Company. In this dark comedy, we visit with Walter “Pops” Washington — a former cop living in a large rent controlled apartment on Manhattan’s west side — and his extended family. Like many tenants of these highly desirable and marketable dwellings, the landlord wants them out. But Pop’s is protective of his territory and that of his unusual brood. They include Pop’s biological son, Junior, recent ex-con and recovering alcoholic, Oswaldo, and Junior’s girlfriend and perpetual student, Lulu.
It quickly becomes clear that of the three, it is strikingly Junior who feels the most distant from the well meaning yet gruff retiree. Just how these relationships formed is made clear without banging the viewer over the head. Wonderful details and insight are shared in almost every line from the opening moments at the kitchen table. (You will never think of breakfast food in the same way again.)
As with Guirgis’s other creations, the play isn’t all talk. Events pick up speed when Pops is paid a visit by his former partner and her fiancee. What unfolds is a highly enjoyable combination of clever laughs and tragic food for thought. Each emotional turn is perfectly enhanced by Walt Spangler’s literally turning set, which moves the players through space and time. The action is reinforced by Austin Pendelton’s astute direction. He knows just when to leisurely play out a moment and when to jump ahead. His artistry is supported by a practiced cast lead by Stephen McKinley Henderson, who wears the role of Pops like a tailored suit that’s been slept in.
Between Riverside and Crazy is playing through March 22, 2015, in the Tony Kiser theater, 2econd Stage Midtown. For tickets and information, visit http://2st.com/shows/current-production/between-riverside-and-crazy.