REVIEW: SpeakEasy Stage’s award-winning drama ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’, a powerful, darkly comical look at a family gone awry

“Eat vegetables.  Fiber is your best friend.  Potassium combats blood pressure.”  This sage, conventional advice was delivered in a humorous moment by Pops in an earnest attempt to be an average, conventional dad.  Though wise in his own way, Walter “Pops” Washington is anything but conventional as an alcoholic widow, father, and head of a wildly dysfunctional household in the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Between Riverside and Crazy that recently completed its run at the SpeakEasy stage at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston, Massachusetts.  This production is not meant for children.  Click here for more information on the SpeakEasy Stage, winner of the 2018 Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian, and its upcoming productions.

Directed by Tiffany Nichole Greene and written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy takes an edgy, at times controversial look at a struggling family who is losing their connection to each other while trying to survive by any means necessary.  With darkly humorous moments that delve into issues of racism, privilege, and deception, this message-driven production grows every bit as crazy as the title suggests.  However, things are certainly not all that they seem and the show is all the better for it.  The Washington family has a great deal of underlying heart and blunt honesty, but it takes some digging to get there.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Dinner with Audrey and Dave_083web

Lewis D. Wheeler, Maureen Keiller, Stewart Evan Smith, Tyrees Allen, and Octavia Chavez-Richmond in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

The real strength in Between Riverside and Crazy is in its energetic, complex performances.  With a gravelly voice, more than his fair share of obstinacy, and traces of Red Foxx from Sanford and Son, Tyrees Allen slips smoothly into Walter’s tough skin with an inner turmoil that is always brimming to the surface, at the brink of revealing itself.   Every snarl, agitation, and sorrow flows eloquently, delivering a powerful punch to a performance that should not be missed.   It is easy to spot his outspokenness brashness in his son Junior, portrayed with a tough exterior, but with charm and secretiveness by Stewart Evan Smith.  Their exchanges, like most of the show, are quick paced and snappy, and if it wasn’t for the darker nature of this show, shows earmarks of any relatable American family.

Completing this family is Alejandro Simoes who delivers a quiet and sympathetic performance as Walter’s adopted son Oswaldo.  A bit naïve and with a secret of his own, Simoes delivers a clever and at times shocking performance of a troubled individual who is not all that he seems.

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Octavia Chavez-Richmond and Stewart Evan Smith in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

With over-sized gold earrings, a tiny outfit and a Puerto Rican accent, Octavia Chavez-Richmond portrays the mysterious and often humorous Lulu.  Chavez-Richmond delves into this juicy, darkly comical role with gusto every time she takes the stage.  She is particularly funny during an exchange with Junior about their future and during a subtle, fascinating scene with Oswaldo and Junior discussing Ring Dings, bologna, and grape soda.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Lulu Pops Caro Clash_355web

Octavia Chavez-Richmond, Tyrees Allen, Lewis D. Wheeler, and Maureen Keiller in SpeakEasy Stage’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

Maureen Keiller as warm, but complicated Detective O’Connor and Lewis D. Wheeler as brown nosing Lieutenant Caro are outspoken New York police officers who have a history with Walter.  Some of the most memorable scenes of the show are between Keiller, Allen, and Wheeler, each exchange between them like a fascinating game of poker.  Although brief, Celeste Oliva offers a bold, pivotal, and controversial performance as Church lady.

Between Riverside and Crazy - Pops Meets The Church Lady_272web

Celeste Oliva and Tyrees Allen in SpeakEasy’s production of BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Photo by Nile Scott Studios.

As a lit Christmas tree sits in the corner and what looks like a functioning kitchen, Eric D. Diaz and Wooden Kiwi do a wonderful job to portray a warm and inviting apartment equipped with a built in brick terrace, a set that is consistent throughout the entire show.  The staging is also strong as simultaneous scenes play out throughout the household, not a moment of it distracting.

Though it is not a show for everyone, its underlying themes, powerful performances, and meaty, twist-filled story delivers its award-winning appeal.  Between Riverside and Crazy kicked off Speakeasy Stage’s 28th season.  Next for the SpeakEasy Stage is the contemporary, Tony award-winning musical Fun Home, continuing through November 24.  Click here for more information of their current season which includes the the Tony award-winning musical Once and The View Upstairs.

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