By Bill Garry
The 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning Between Riverside and Crazy is now getting its Los Angeles premiere at The Fountain.
The play is a look at the scourges of police racism, "blue line" loyalty, minority joblessness, and the housing bureaucracy.
Our guide is Walter Washington (Montae Russell), a black man of immense wisdom, presence and integrity, holding together an extended family in his large rent-controlled New York apartment. Walter is a disabled police officer, haunted by the aftermath of a shooting eight years ago and the recent death of his beloved wife. When his former partner Det. Audrey O'Connor (Lesley Fera) and her fiance Lt. Dave Caro (Joshua Bitton) offer a solution to some of his mounting problems, Walter's old patterns of behavior (some personal, some professional, some useful, some not) reemerge, turning what could be a simple resolution into a complex game of poker.
Everybody loves Walter: his adult son, Junior (Matthew Hancock), who sells stolen electronics from his bedroom; Junior's weed-smoking girlfriend Lulu (Marisol Miranda), who is a community college student; Oswaldo (Victor Anthony) an almond-munching ex-con on his road to recovery; and the Church Lady (an alluring Liza Fernandez), who presents Walter with the miracle that wakes him up to the life he has been sleepwalking through.
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos brings out strong, natural performances from the cast. Montae Russell, on stage every moment except for a wardrobe change, displays an intense intellect mixed with a disarming everyman ordinaryness. Joshua Bitton plays the worthy adversary; his police lieutenant is a well-trained, buttoned-up, controlling ass. Matthew Hancock, who was the hyper, complex Verb in last season's Hype Man, shows us his lost, yet loving side. Victor Anthony breaks out as the struggling nobody being tossed around by others. A conflicted Lesley Fera, pitch perfect Marisol Miranda, and alluring Liza Fernandez play their pivotal roles with confidence.
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis keeps this all accessible and relatable by constructing the story like a 1970s Norman Lear sitcom, albeit dramatically-heightened and four times the length. There are lots of jokes, profanities, hugs, and "I love yous." I would have liked to see the play take a deeper dive into the personal damage that the issues have caused. Why does Junior have to sell stolen goods? He's a bright, great, loving guy; why doesn't he tell us how he feels about it? Oswaldo has an emotional scene where he shows his heartbreak over his father's rejection. Where is Junior's? Where is Lulu's? Like a good Norman Lear dramedy, the issues are real, but the situations are jokey (as in Walter's miracle), and the endings always happy.
Between Riverside and Crazy is at the Fountain Theatre now thru December 15