Stage

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play Between Riverside and Crazy Returns to 4th Wall

Byron Jacquet as Pops
Byron Jacquet as Pops Photo by Gabriella Nissen
More than two years ago, 4th Wall Theatre Co. began presenting the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis and the first reviews were filled with praise about the script, the acting, the set, the directing, well, everything. And then COVID-19 hit and after just a handful of performances, 4th Wall reluctantly closed up shop.

"I think we opened the day they were starting to talk about [COVID-19]. At first we were kind of in denial that it was real. The play, it had big houses and we were all so excited about how right the play felt together as a team," 4th Wall's Kim Tobin-Lehl said. "The ensemble was so good together. So we just thought, 'This can't really be over, right?' But then when we shut it down, we knew it was the right thing to do. We have to take care of each other, we have to take care of our community. "

This May, 4th Wall will resume where it left off and return to the time-worn New York City apartment rooms that Pops (Bryon Jacquet) is fighting to hold onto. He's on disability after being shot by another police officer — a white one — and is claiming discrimination in his lawsuit against the city. Surrounding him is a case of characters that includes son Junior (Joseph “Joe P.” Palmore), Junior's girlfriend Lulu (Briana Resa), Junior's friend Oswaldo (Juan Sebastián Cruz), the Church Lady (Pamela Vogel) as well as his former partner Audrey (Tobin-Lehl) and her police lieutenant fiance Caro (Philip Lehl).

The only personnel change from that production is that Tobin-Lehl will direct instead of Bill Pruitt (a producer for The Amazing Race). It'll be the same set — kept in storage for two years — and she says her goal as director will be to stay true to the vision of Pruitt, while making the story-telling and the relationships even more clear.

Like almost everyone, Tobin-Lehl says she thinks the conditions of the pandemic and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine have brought about a greater sense of community, and that this two-act play (2014) is more timely than ever. In fact, she said, other theaters are recognizing that as well — the play  is being remounted in New York at Second Stage Theater in the fall.

The characters aren't perfect people, a theme that Gurgis returns to again and again in his plays. Junior is a reformed petty criminal. Lulu isn't the brightest person in the room, Oswaldo is a reformed addict.

"This play is so wonderful in its complexities about the human condition. We are not perfect individuals. We are not always on this stereotypical perfect hero journey where the hero is always starting out with some kind of struggle about their morality or their character and then by the end they're clean; they're perfect. That's not truthful," Tobin-Lehl said.

"Sometimes the hero's journey is to say 'Oh I have these things wrong with me and these things that are wonderful about me and I'm going to move forward in my life and know that I am going to do good things and bad things and try to correct and improve along the way.'"

When she approached the cast about reviving the play she was happily surprised that all remained committed to it, Tobin-Lehl said. "What was so wonderful for me was that everyone said 'I marked this off. I'm doing this.'"

This is an adult play and not for younger children, but for those adults in the room, Tobin-Lehl promises they'll see something "funny, smart, with strong characters and strong actors dedicated to the work.

"I think we always knew that this play needed a life and that Houston had to see it."

Performances are scheduled for May 12 through June 4 (Opening Night May 13) at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays at Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For more information, call 832-767-4991 or visit 4thwalltheatreco.com.$17-$53 (Pay-What-You-Can on Monday, May 30).
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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