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The Theatreguide.London Review

Between Riverside And Crazy
Hampstead Theatre    Summer 2024

Walter Washington lives on the edge of normalcy. He is a retired New York City policeman who was forced into a medical retirement after a long and mostly unremarkable career; he survived six bullets from a rookie cop.

The details are a little sketchy and fluid, depending on who is recounting and how far along in the plot. He has filed a discrimination suit against New York City and, eight years on, is still waiting for a settlement.

Walter is living in a rent-controlled apartment. His wife has died leaving him unmoored. His son, Junior, recently released from prison, has moved back in with him.

Joining Walterís 'family' is Juniorís girlfriend, Lulu, and a recovering addict named Oswaldo. Add to this mix a 'church lady' trying to sell a Santeria salvation to Walter. She is one of the culture's requisite and colourful 'good neighbours'.

American playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis offers a picture of a slightly dysfunctional Afro-American family not quite managing to make middle class. cluttered with flawed characters who manage to coexist. They have acquired all the skills needed while maintaining a naÔve kind of trust.

Walter is a little too blustery. Lulu is a little too flighty. Junior is too much the typically unfaithful black male. They strive for their independence while remaining a supportive part of each otherís lives.

On this evening, Walter is joined for dinner by his ex-partner, Detective Audrey OíConner, and her fiance, Lieutenant Dave Caro. Their objective is to get Walter to sign a 'nondisclosure' and settle his lawsuit.

The large stage is cluttered with possessions including a Christmas tree. The sets are moved easily by the cast, changing as the play changes focus. The large dinner table, which was the action center in the first act, is removed and the framed bedroom is moved down into the center.

The set, costumes and music are rich; the tagging on the back wall contrasts with the flowery wallpaper in the bedroom.

Stephen Adly Guirgis, a native New Yorker, has a first-hand knowledge of the inhabitants of these fringe neighborhoods. He has a kind but clear view of the mixture of the good and bad, cultivated and necessary.

Focusing on the subtle differences between the American and The British family, Director Michael Longhurst creates the struggle of the universal fringe society. This kind of cultural drama should help us better understand each other and, maybe, forgive our differences.

Danny Sapani as Walter Washington capably manages the balance of this extended family. Sapani makes Washington feel like he is planted firmly between the harsh reality of 'getting on' and his almost naÔve outlook. He wonít be evicted and he will get his settlement.

Martins Imhangbe plays the macho Junior. He is just charming enough not be thought of as smarmy.

Tiffany Gray has managed to come up with a new 'dumb blonde' that is charming while being not in the least self-conscious. She seems innocent while being provocative, a strange combination that works.

Ayesha Antoine is believable and funny as the church lady, Santeria being the church. She hides her motive and alter-ego well.

Sebastian Orozco is the mysterious Oswaldo; ex-drug addict now addicted to health food. Daniel Lapaine skillfully handles the too-typical NY cop. He plays the balance between cop and boyfriend.

Judith Roddy is the strong ex-partner who truly cares for Washington. Although she knows everything, she will not use it as ammunition.

This cast of seven is supported by a production team of at least 27. Hampstead Theatre has provided everything including a 'wham supervisor'.

Between Riverside and Crazy is as close to being the real thing while pushing all the boundaries more than a little bit, and won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Guirgis, the seasoned playwright, has an extended history of plays that accurately depict his take on the world and collected a variety of awards.

Catherine Lamm

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Review of Between Riverside And Crazy  -  Hampstead Theatre 2024