'BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY:' YOURS, MINE, OURS
In 1979 I moved into a rent-stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive — just a year after “Pops,” the fictional main character in Between Riverside and Crazy, moved into his. This symmetry between my reality and playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s theatrical imagination barely infiltrated my consciousness while I was absorbed in his still-eerily timely play — first produced Off-Broadway in 2015 (when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize), and now revived on Broadway in a sizzling production (sadly, soon to close) featuring much of the smashing original Off-Broadway cast, eloquently directed by the original director, Austin Pendleton.
Set in 2014, Between Riverside and Crazy cracks you over the head with the increasingly lethal machinations orbiting around Pops, a black ex-cop and recent widower clinging to his now-decaying Riverside Drive digs as his cohabiting grown son, “Junior,” Junior’s girlfriend, Lulu, and wayward pal, Oswaldo, circle him, professing their love with an arsenal of emotional feints and scams. In fact, everybody, including Pops himself; his seemingly diehard old police partner, O’Connor; her fiancé, an oleaginously ambitious NYPD bureaucrat named Caro; and even the visiting Church Lady, are conning each other. It’s a dizzying, beautiful, brutal roundelay.
Little about Between Riverside and Crazy’s rambling onstage apartment actually resembles mine, I thought, initially, after exiting the show, grinning and bedazzled. Mine is not remotely so capacious (those towering kitchen cabinets!). Mine is not riddled with opportunistic operators (though my daughters are pretty slick). And, first to last, mine is certainly not the domain of anyone so commanding as Stephen McKinley Henderson, whose magisterial, prismatically understated performance as Pops will linger with me as one of the finest that I have ever seen. Consumate is the only word for it.
Still, the show got me thinking: About cops. About ex-cops. Racism. Institutional racism. Opportunism. History. The writing and rewriting of history. Faith. Sex. Desire. Fear.
It also has set me to remembering: About my apartment’s first roommate, a lapsed veterinary student, who dealt crack out of his bedroom — unbeknownst to me, at first — leaving behind a gallon glass drum of ether buried in his closet, after I finally tossed him out. I was afraid to touch it. About another, later, lady roommate, who admired a fabulous vintage tablecloth I’d thrifted in an uptown junk shop, its surface stitched with a map of Harlem nightclubs, circa 1929. She suggested we sleep together one night, quite unexpectedly, then stole the tablecloth before I awoke and disappeared forever.
Or the morning I returned home after an all-nighter and, throwing open the unlocked front door, discovered a homeless gent in my living room guzzling cologne straight-up from a bottle I’d received as a Bar Mitzvah present and kept around as a keepsake. He said he’d leave if I gave him a buck. I did and he did.
Between Riverside and Crazy indeed.
I have no idea what any of these memories mean. I barely grasped meaning from all the entertainingly dark doings depicted theatrically. We interpret such things in our own way. If at all.