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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

REVIEW: Inspiring documentary ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ more than a beautiful day in the neighborhood

“It’s such a good feeling to know we are lifelong friends,” was Mr. Rogers final words as he closed out his show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhoodin 2001.  However, the impact he has had on the world is timeless.

Though The Sleepless Critic usually tackles the very best in music and theatre, one has to make an exception to express the rare, extraordinary quality in Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor, a moving, deeply personal documentary which highlights Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, a children’s show that was unconventionally the best in television and ran from 1968 through 2001 on PBS.  The film is currently in limited release.  Click here for more information and ticket availability.

This is not to say Won’t You Be My Neighbor didn’t explore the power of music.  American cellist Yo-Yo Ma appeared on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood at a young age and shared his exceptional musical talent.

Mr. Rogers also used music as a powerful tool to influence his viewers such as with his original song, It’s You I Like.   An introvert from childhood, Mr. Rogers often expressed his feelings through music.  This inspiring documentary opens with Mr. Rogers offering a metaphor on the piano about life’s difficult transitions.  He expressed how easy it may be to get from a C note to a D, but how challenging it is to transition from an F to an F sharp, paralleling the challenges children face growing up.  His dedication to children through television offered children support on how to overcome the hardships of life and feel like they have a unique importance in this world.

The film draws from Mr. Rogers’s charisma, which softened the toughest of hearts with his assertion that everyone either had love or lacked it.  Through his family members, cast, crew, and some of his adversaries, it is a balanced portrayal of an ordained minister with a simple purpose, a purpose that was not always understood.  Nonetheless, Won’t You Be My Neighbor is an important film that has navigated generations of children through grief, assassination, divorce, disabilities, and other hardships, providing glimpses into devastation in recent history such as war, the Challenger tragedy, and 9/11.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor was also not without its own sense of humor from backstage antics to show parodies.  However, the best quality of Won’t You Be My Neighbor is, like a good neighbor, Mr. Rogers had a warm smile and an open door, and he genuinely cared.  That’s an awful lot of comfort in a troubled world.

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Massasoit Theatre Company presents the insightful, award-winning play, ‘A Raisin in the Sun’

Sometimes waiting for a new life to start can be the most important thing in the world.  Massasoit Theatre Company proudly presents A Raisin in the Sun, an award-winning, insightful play, and chosen for its poignant themes that speak to today’s society.  Adapted into the 1961 film starring Sydney Poitier, a musical, a TV movie, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry has made a significant impact over the years since its Broadway debut in 1959.

Massasoit Theatre Company’s A Raisin in the Sun will take the stage for one weekend only from Thursday, March 9 through Saturday, March 11 at Buckley Performing Arts Center in Brockton, Massachusetts.  A talk back will take place after the performances on Saturdays.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

A Raisin in the Sun is hailed for its gripping insight on poverty, racism, and inner turmoil.  Directed by Corinne Mason and produced by Mark Rocheteau, ‘Raisin in the Sun’ focuses on the Youngers, an African-American family who are struggling to survive, but dreams of better things to come.  With the entire family living in a tiny apartment, Amber Smith as Ruth, Keion Lugay as Walter Lee, Kadisha Harris as Travis, and Arial Wigfall as Beneatha all have their own individual dreams of making a new start.  However, life has its unexpected turns.

See A Raisin in the Sun for four performances only on March 9, 10, and 11 at 8 p.m.  One Saturday matinee performance takes place on March 11 at 3 p.m.  All performances will be held at Buckley Performing Arts Center, One Massasoit Boulevard in Brockton, Massachusetts.  Discounted student, senior, and group rates are all available.  Call 508-427-1234 or click here for tickets and further information.  Follow Massasoit Theatre Company on Facebook for upcoming events and more.

Milton Players present comedy, ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ as well as upcoming auditions

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‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ cast Courtesy of Elizabeth Bean

Taking a zany, comedic look at a dysfunctional family’s bickering and grudges, Milton Players proudly present the Tony award-winning play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike through Sunday, February 5 in Canton, Massachusetts.  The original, off-Broadway cast included Emmy and Tony award-winner David Hyde Pierce and Golden Globe-winner Sigourney Weaver.  Click here for more information and tickets.

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Liz Echmen as Cassandra and Kevin Lowney as Vanya Courtesy of Elizabeth Bean

Written by Christopher Durang and directed by Wendy Stuart, Milton Players’ 84th season offers a show about middle-aged siblings and their wild circumstances, culminating in a fight over their ancestral home.  With sharp dialogue derived from Anton Chekhov, ‘Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike’ feature local cast members Kevin Lowney as Vanya, Barbara Schapiro as Sonia, Claire Lukazcyn as Masha, Chris Cartier as Spike, Liz Eacmen as Cassandra, and Jana Urban-Geyer as Nina.

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Jana Urban-Geyer as Nina and Chris Cartier as Spike Courtesy of Elizabeth Bean

Remaining performances take place on Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4 at 8 p.m.  One matinee show will be held on Sunday, February 5 at 2 p.m.  All shows are held at Brayton School Auditorium in Canton, Massachusetts. Click here for tickets, here for directions, call 617-698-7469, or email them at email@miltonplayers.org for further information.

Milton Players changes gears with their spring production, Frederick Knott’s ‘Dial M for Murder’ directed by Eric Stulb.  Adapted into a thrilling film by Alfred Hitchcock, auditions will be held on Tuesday, February 7 and Wednesday, February 8 at 7 p.m.  The show kicks off in April.  Click here for more information on auditions and more.  Follow Milton Players on Facebook for further updates.