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(photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia)

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY features a stellar cast led by the wonderful Stephen McKinley Henderson (photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Atlantic Theater Company
Linda Gross Theater
336 West 20th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Monday - Saturday through August 23, $20-$65

Longtime character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson, a staple in the work of August Wilson, finally gets the big-time starring role he deserves in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Between Riverside and Crazy. In the Atlantic Theater Company production, which has been extended through August 23, Henderson, who was nominated for a supporting actor Tony in 2012 for his role as Bono in Fences and more recently played Bobo in the Tony-nominated revival of A Raisin in the Sun, both opposite Denzel Washington, stars as Walter “Pops” Washington, a former beat cop whose career ended after a fellow police officer shot him multiple times. As the play opens, the portly Pops is sitting in a wheelchair at the kitchen table in his broken-down, rent-stabilized Riverside Drive railroad apartment. But it turns out that he can walk fine; the wheelchair belonged to his wife, who passed away just before Christmas. Meanwhile, the much-coveted apartment has been falling apart ever since his wife’s death, as evidenced by a wobbly Christmas tree still in the living room. Pops lives with his grown son, the recently paroled Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas), who is secretive and argumentative; Oswaldo (Victor Almanzar), a tough-talking young man in recovery who Pops has taken in; and Lulu (Rosal Colón), Junior’s pregnant girlfriend. It’s been eight years since Pops was shot in a controversial off-duty incident that he claims was racially motivated; over that time, the city has made financial offers to settle the case, but Pops has rejected every one on principle. “An honorable man can’t be bought off,” he tells his son. “An honorable man doesn’t just settle a lawsuit ‘No Fault’ and lend his silence to hypocrisy and racism and the grievous violation of all our civil rights.” His former partner, Audrey (Guirgis regular Elizabeth Canavan), and her fiancée, Lieutenant Caro (The Sopranos’ and Nurse Jackie’s Michael Rispoli) come for dinner and try to persuade him to take the deal, but Pops is a stubborn, unpredictable man with a unique view of the world. Nevertheless, he sees a different light after a visit from the new church lady (Liza Colón-Zayas).

(photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Lulu (Rosal Colón) share a moment in new Stephen Adly Guirgis play at the Atlantic (photo by Kevin Thomas Garcia)

Guirgis, who grew up on Riverside Drive, is the former co-artistic director of the LAByrinth Theater Company, for which he wrote five plays directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman (including Our Lady of 121st Street and Jesus Hopped the “A” Train), followed by his Broadway debut, The Motherf**ker with the Hat. Between Riverside and Crazy again demonstrates his sharp ear for dialogue and his keen sense of characterization as he creates complex, realistic situations filled with surprise twists and turns. Henderson is fabulous as Pops, alternating between a sweet gentleness and a selfish anger, both populated with four-letter words that emerge poetically; the audience never knows what he’ll say or do next, making the play wonderfully uncomfortable. The supporting cast is excellent as well, as Guirgis and director Austin Pendleton (Gidion’s Knot, Orson’s Shadow) give each character his and her moment to shine on Walt Spangler’s rotating, somewhat ramshackle set. But best of all, everyone keeps the spotlight centered on Henderson as Pops, a lovable yet intensely frustrating individual played by an actor of tender and intelligent depth and charm.