Were it not for Joe Adler and his adventuresome GableStage, we would probably not be exposed to the raucous, humor-laced urban tales of Stephen Adly Guirgis and South Florida would be poorer for it.
Adler has a taste for writers whose work is provocative and edgy, qualities he previously found in Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and The Mother*****r with a Hat. He is currently following them up with Between Riverside and Crazy, which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Whether it deserved this highest honor for stage literature is debatable, but the vivid characters and on-target depiction of their dubious morality, wrapped in a highly entertaining package, is beyond question.
The GableStage production is firmly anchored by the wily Leo Finnie as a former cop known by those around him as Pops, regardless of any parental connection. Eight years earlier, his career was abruptly ended when we was shot — while off-duty and out of uniform in an after-hours bar — by a fellow policeman, who may or may not have directed racial epithets at Pops as well.
Pops has been suing the New York Police Department ever since and could sure use the money, now that his landlord is trying to pry him and his brood out of his rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment. Arriving to persuade him to settle the suit is his former partner on the force, Detective O’Connor (Beverly Blanchette) and her fiance, Lieutenant Caro (Michael Serratore), whose interests in the case dovetail with his career ambitions.
Fleshing out this portrait of Pops’s world are his aimless, troubled son Junior (Marckenson Charles), Junior’s skimpily clad girlfriend Lulu (Gladys Ramirez) and Oswaldo, a friend struggling to kick a persistent drug addiction. And just to up the crazy quotient, Pops is visited in the second act by a character known as Church Lady, whose approach to communion is decidely carnal.
Guirgis leaves it to his director to cohere all these diverse elements, a task that Adler manages with skill and brio. The play may ramble, but its individual parts are never less than compelling.
Adler calls on his usual gang of designers to bring Between Riverside to life. Scenic designer Lyle Baskin divides the wide GableStage space into four distinct playing areas, including a rooftop aerie. Pops rarely gets out of his bathrobe and clothes are hardly a priority for the other characters, but Ellis Tillman costumes them with knowing touches.
Guirgis has trained his fans to expect dramatic jolts and plenty of humor, both of which are present in abundance at GableStage. You have probably not spent much time with characters like those in Between Riverside and Crazy, and that is reason enough head to those coordinates on the theatrical map.
BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY, GableStage at The Biltmore Hotel. 1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables. Through Sunday, Feb. 19. $45-$60. Call: 305-445-1119.