Rent-controlled apartments offer a stability rarely seen in metropolitan areas. They sure don’t exist in Chicago. But what happens when an apartment is the only stability one has? When we meet Pops, we learn the answer is not much, outside of a safe-ish place to sleep and drink.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play Between Riverside and Crazy, produced by Redtwist Theatre and directed by Rinska Carrasco-Prestinary, has aged poorly since it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama, particularly in its portrayal of women.
Pops (Kenneth D. Johnson), an ex-cop, shares his apartment on Riverside Drive in New York with a slew of characters, including his son, Junior, and a sobered addict with PTSD, both formerly incarcerated. Pops is battling his own demons, and also a court case against a rookie cop who shot him six times while off-duty and un-uniformed. But it’s been eight years, and neither the value of black lives nor the consequences for police brutality have increased. Compounded by the recent passing of his wife, Pops’s life is in peak disarray—and it shows.
The set, designed by Nicholas James Schwartz, immerses the audience in that disarray. The walls of Pops’s home are lined with off-center family photos. A dead Christmas tree skirted with faded newspapers stands in a corner; the kitchen counter is buried under spilled meds and unopened bills. Part of the audience sits in the living room, across from the couch, in what becomes an inadvertent splash zone when whiskey becomes the choice comfort and weapon.
The cast is strong, but the women in particular are limited by the script. Almanya Narula, who plays Junior’s girlfriend Lulu, leans too hard into ditzy and scatterbrained, bumbling around the apartment in revealing clothes and forgotten responsibilities. Though this dated portrayal feels decades old, the guilt and shame internalized by POC cops is palpable—especially in a world where they can still be shot without consequence. v