Monday, September 24, 2018


We’re not safe from President Trump, even in the theater. He gets a mention or two in SpeakEasy’s comedy and the whole evening at Zeitgeist. First let’s cover the crazy, funny love at SpeakEasy Stage.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (playing through Oct. 13th) is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize winning comedy (and some ‘drama’ too) about a gloriously dysfunctional family living in a rent controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The action swirls around Pops, who left the police force when he was shot by a fellow officer who didn’t know he was NYPD. Guirgis could have, but he doesn’t, get righteous about the shooter being white and Pops, African American. (We go there in our heads, though. You can’t help thinking of all the horrific shootings of African-Americans in the news. And we all know now, if we didn’t before, that a Black man isn’t even safe in his own apartment.)

But Guirgis has many more fish to fry in his play. This shooting is only one. His brilliant, hilarious dialogue turns some heavy plot twists into comic gold. Just when you think the Act I set-up is a little top heavy, some surprising magical realism ties up every loose end… and you never see the cogs that turn the dramatic wheel. Tyrees Allen is superb as the irascible Pops. Everyone in director Tiffany Nichole Greene’s sharp cast is in top form, especially Alajandro Simoes as a recovering drug and sugar addict, Stewart Evan Smith as Pops’ world weary, depressed son and Octavia Chavez-Richmond as the son’s wacky girlfriend BUT it’s Celeste Oliva who steals the show as the red hot church lady. Don’t miss out on Guirgis’ love fest.

Much closer to the vest is Jon Robin Baitz’ cautionary tale entitled VICUÑA (playing @ Zeitgeist Stage through Oct. 6th). Without Baitz’ immensely serious prologue and epilogue (which he added after the election) VICUÑA seems like a SNL send-up of the candidate. What makes it remarkable is that Baitz wrote it during the 2016 presidential campaign, when no one thought Trump could win… making VICUÑA the first theatrical imagining of a Trump presidency. As absurd as he could make his play, of course, HE HAD NO IDEA.

That’s the problem with the original script about the candidate and his tailor, now presented as the first act. We’ve been there and done that. And once we’ve experienced the entire evening, it’s the rewrites that pack the punch. For cryin’ out loud, he made me think of DR. STRANGELOVE (when Keenan Wynn’s colonel discovers Peter Sellers’ RAF officer breaking into a vending machine and utters one of my favorite lines, “What kind of a suit do you call that, fella?”) and that gets Baitz at least mentioned in the same paragraph with Stanley Kubrick.

The nifty, sartorial magic in VICUÑA and some heavy post-apocalyptic comeuppance for everyone (except you-know-who) gives the flimsy material of the first act some weight. The new scenes are messy and some threads are lost but you can’t dismiss Baitz’ righteousness. Director David Miller even keeps the house lights on the whole time, making us complicit in the abomination that is upon us in real life.

Miller’s cast is first rate, with Robert Bonotto leading the pack as the astute tailor, shrewdly turning Baitz’ lines into witty repartee. Steve Auger has the formidable task of turning Trump funny when it’s almost impossible for us to think anything he does is humorous. Likewise with Srin Chakravorty, as Trump’s daughter but Chakravorty has the epilogue to make her human. Jaime Hernandez gives a riveting, edgy performance as the tailor’s apprentice and Evelyn Holley gets to make the congressional republicans almost as despicable as the current crop.