Between Riverside and Crazy
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Published by Theatre Communications Group, 2015
Play, 71 pages
"Oh yeah, 'They said'! 'They' always saying something. Then later, they'll go and say something else that's inevitably completely ass-backwards from what they originally said! Happens all the time." - Pops
Between Riverside and Crazy was the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. It tells the story of a disgraced or a hero (depending on who you ask) cop whose world is unraveling around him. I found it to be gritty and compelling, and, although I didn't find the characters likable or particularly redemptive, it felt real. (I'm starting to wonder if this is a trend. Since plays have a more captive, specialized audience, can characters overall be less likable than those in film and, especially, television?)
I enjoyed the writing, and several elements stuck out. First, Guirgis gave a very lengthy time and place description. A lot of history was packed in, like "it's seen better days since the death of Pops's beloved wife just before Christmas" and "the comforting aroma of decades of pot roasts and chicken dinners lets us know we're in a genuine old-school New York City family home." I'm not 100% sure if I would know either of these things if I was seeing the play, but the passage painted a vivid picture. I think, that while all of the details might not be fully actualized, they'd point the designers in the right direction (without doing their job for them). It was a nice touch.
Something else I noticed is that Guirgis remained noninvasive with his stage directions. They were used judiciously and, when action was implied by the dialogue, he trusted them to stand on their own. A couple of examples:
Pops: Get your ass on that bus, Junior--hold up. Here.
Junior: I got money.
Pops: Well now you got some more.
Pops: Hey now! I ain't gonna tell you again--
Oswaldo: You hit me!
Pops: I'm just backing you off--
In the first, there is obviously an exchange of money; in the second, there is violence. Neither is spelled out, and doing so would likely interrupt the build of the action. Nevertheless, I quickly pictured what was going on when reading the piece.
Speaking of delicious dialogue, Guirgis writes his in a way that jumps off the page. I hear the voices in my head and the emotion behind them. For example, so much is going on during Caro's ten-word line below, and it implies wonderful, silent beats between him and O'Connor.
Detective O'Connor: And he hasn't played poker since.
Lieutenant Caro: That she knows of. Just kidding. No really, I'm kidding.
Guirgis may have written a lot in his time and place description, but he then got out of the way and allowed his play to stand on its own. This created an inevitability to how the events unfolded. I felt like I was a fly on the wall and this is what was happening -- there was nothing I or an omnipotent presence could do to stop it, and I became less and less aware of the "writer's voice" as the play went on.