REVIEW OF COAL MINE THEATRE PRODUCTION
Coal MineTheatre is continuing with its judicious and laudable choice of plays. It doesnot mean you will like all of them but there can be no arguments about the caretaken in their choosing. Between Riverside and Crazy byStephen Adly Guirgis now playing won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and thatis no doubt an attention grabber.
Between Riverside and Crazy receives a full-blooded andfull-throated production directed by Kelli Fox in the small rectangularstorefront theatre on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. There are some issues with theplay where subplots appear and then are left hanging and unresolved. The end ofthe play appears rushed to an inexplicable and unexplained resolution as if theplaywright looked at his watch and decided to bring in a quick end.
Walter “Pops” Washington, played withvigour, passion, zeal and some humanity by Alexander Thomas, is a former NewYork cop who was accidentally shot six times by a rookie. He wants compensationand has raised the stakes for getting it by stating that he was called a“nigger” by his shooter. It is a lie but he has maintained it for eight years. Hehas a chequered past which is hinted at with few details provided.
Pops lives with several shady characters inhis rent-controlled apartment that he is in danger of losing. His son Junior(Jai Jai Jones) is making a living by other means than working. Oswaldo (NabilRajo) refers to Washington as his father (he is not) is on parole but he wantsto straighten himself out. Junior’s girlfriend Lulu (Zarrin Darnell-Martin) isphysically stunning and she wants us to see it all the time. She is studyingaccounting (sure) and is pregnant (maybe). Her past is also very shady. We havefour social misfits and we wonder if there is a way out for them. And whatabout the rent-controlled apartment?
That is not all. Washington has a couple of“friends” from the police department and both of them are intense, passionate,loud and almost on the edge of emotional breakdowns. We are not fully certainwhy. Claire Armstrong as Detective O’Connor and Sergio Di Zio as Lt. Caro playWashington’s friends and pay attention to the $30,000 ring that the lieutenanthas given to the detective. They go into emotional high gear very quickly andone is not sure if lower emotional intensity may not be more persuasive.
For a good laugh, much mystery and somenefarious activity, Washington is visited by the Church Lady played by AllegraFulton. She is not so much shady but downright swampy and Fulton makes goodwork of the role and surprises us more than we anticipate.
The problem with the play is that some ofthe scenes are overwritten and pass over from dramatic to melodramatic. Someplot strands, as I said, are vague and left hanging but there is not much thatKelli Fox can do about them except to keep up the pace. She does.
The set consists of Washington’s apartmentand here designer Anna Treusch attempts to give a representation of it in thesmall space of the Coalmine Theatre. The kitchen is on a raised area furthest fromthe audience. There is a living room just below that and a bed closest toaudience. Most of the action takes place in the kitchen and relatively littlehappens in the bed. The design is awkward and one asks if putting the kitchenclosest to the audience may not have worked better.
BetweenRiverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis continues until December22, 2019 at the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave. Toronto, M4J 1N4. www.coalminetheatre.com