“Between Riverside and Crazy” arrives at the Coal Mine ~ review by Sylvie Webb



Sesaya specializes in music and arts education.

Claire Armstrong and Alexander Thomas in Between Riverside and Crazy; photo by Dahlia Katz

The Coal Mine Theatre is now in its 6th season and is proud to welcome this production of Between Riverside and Crazy originally produced by Atlantic Theater Company in New York in 2014. The playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis has earned numerous awards including the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and the 2015 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play.

The Coal Mine Theatre is the perfect setting for this raw and emotional portrayal of a retired New York City policeman Water “Pops” Washington (Alexander Thomas). It is such a unique experience to walk into the theatre through the front stage entrance. You are immediately on the set, walking through the kitchen, the living room and then through the bedroom to get to your seat. The audience is seated in a semi-circle around the stage, and we are now transported into the lives of Pops and his family living in a tiny apartment on Riverside Drive, a street situated along the Hudson River in Manhattan.

Just before the set darkens and the play begins, my eyes are drawn to a piece of apple pie on the kitchen table. I love the set design and some of the choices made but feel there is a reason for that piece of apple pie, and I am curious to know why! The lights come on, and we are introduced to Pops as he is seated at the kitchen table, eating that apple pie, and we quickly realize that he is the centre of many explosive conflicts in this story about life in an urban city.

The issues are completely relatable to a Toronto audience because they deal with violence, gentrification, unaffordable housing, addiction and the meaning of what it means to be a family. One of the most poignant lines in the script is stated by Pops in describing his professional experience of “being a black cop in a white man’s world”. The notes from the director, Kelli Fox, provided me with an important viewing lens: “What matters is what feels right. And what feels ‘right’ depends on your point of view. In this apartment on Riverside, everyone is working an angle, and Guirgis is always shifting our perspective, physically as well as psychologically, so that we don’t know who, or what, we should believe. But we know whose side we’re on, and we recognize justice when we see it served.”

Knowing that perspective and point of view are important really helped me to understand each character’s motive. This play features the remarkable performances of the seven cast members. The small conflicts between Pops and his son (Jai Jai Jones), his son’s girlfriend (Zarrin Darnell-Martin), and his son’s friend (Nabil Rajo) were emotional and sincere. There was humour and stark silence, as the audience followed the cast in telling their stories and secrets. Additional cast members include two police colleagues (Claire Armstrong and Sergio Di Zio) and the church lady (Allegra Fulton). These multifaceted characters are each memorable and contribute to the complex nature of society and what we understand to be family. The characters are likeable and believable and as an audience, Pops becomes our father figure, too. It is Pops that helps the audience navigate the “grey perspective” because this play is not about black and white.

So when I think of these phrases “As American as apple pie” or “New York City: The big apple”, or “As easy as apple pie”, I believe I understand the choice in using a piece of apple pie in the first scene. It depends on your perspective. We were honoured to be a part of a slice of American life that is relatable to a Toronto audience. As I left the theatre, I realized that the sounds of the Danforth (barking dogs, traffic and sirens) were not much different than the New York soundscape we experienced in the Coal Mine Theatre. The story of social injustice continues to be
relevant in Canadian society, too.

Jai Jai Jones, Alexander Thomas and Nabil Rajo in Between Riverside and Crazy; photo by Dahlia Katz

News You Can Use

WhatBetween Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis | Director: Kelli Fox| Set Design: Anna Treusch |Costume Design: Michelle Bohn | Lighting Design: Steve Lucas | Sound Design: Deanna H Choi | Stage Manager: Elyse Quesnel | Production Manager: Laura Phillips | Head of Props: Kayla Chaterji

Cast: Claire Armstrong, Zarrin Darnell-Martin, Sergio Di Zio, Allegra Fulton, Jai Jai Jones, Nabil Rajo, Alexander Thomas

Who: Adult Audiences

When: On stage until December 22, 2019. This play is performed in two acts with a 15-minute intermission

Where: Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON

Info and Ticketscoalminetheatre.com

© Sylvie Webb, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine, 2019

Posted in Theatre and tagged , , , .

One Comment

  1. How odd to read a review of this show that talks at length about a piece of apple pie and says almost nothing about the extraordinary lead performance.

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