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THE RIVERSIDE presented by The Clifton Players through Sept. 27. Click here for more information on the production.

“What’s up, niggah’!”

I am writing this review under the assumption that this is a final draft of Kevin Crowley’s play.  I also assume that he has hopes to see this play produced elsewhere in the future

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

There is alot of strong, local talent on stage in this production. And I believe that buried in this cornucopia of ideas and characters is the backbone of a strong script. This, I only determined by working my way backwards from the ending. I have spent hours thinking about the production and trying to figure out ways to articulate my thoughts. The production left me with so many question about directing choices, technical choices, character motivations and the script itself.

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

I usually try not to give away specifics, but from this point on, the review does contain spoilers.

“What’s up, niggah’!”

CP_The Riverside1

Daniel C. Britt as Meat.

The strongest character on stage was Daniel C. Britt as bartender Meat. Always in character, always involved in the scene, yet still taking care of all his stage business naturally. He was as solid as the bar itself. Britt’s confrontation with Mike (Michael Shooner), the older son of the bar-owner, was pitch perfect. I would have liked to seen something Meat said actually cut Mike and bring out a hint of  his hidden anger.

“What’s up, niggah’!”

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

I believe Gary McGurk may soon end up with a few “Drunk Guy” roles on his resume. His rye whiskey-swilling Slug was the perfect comic drunk. His level of inebriation varied and progressed throughout the scenes which helped the believably. His character was also always in the moment. His drunken tirade at Mike also played very well.

“What’s up, niggah’!”

Both Mindy Heithaus as Flopsey and Reggie Willis as Jim do nice work. The character of Flopsey though is a bit cliched. The struggling, single mother who works hard, enjoys a good time, and tends to make bad choices after a few drinks, but all her problems would be solved by a good man. The, just when she thinks she has found the one, her bad choices come back to ruin her chance at happiness.

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

Mike Dennis as Broken Record, Daniel C. Britt as Meat & Reggie Willis as Jim.

Mike Dennis as Broken Record, Daniel C. Britt as Meat & Reggie Willis as Jim.

Mike Dennis does well as Broken Record (he has a stutter…get it?). But aside from a few lines, the character is unnecessary to the story. He’s nothing but a sustained bit until miraculously cured of his life-long stuttering by shaking hands with Pete Rose. Come on, this is “Jesus appears in mold on a piece of bread” silliness. If you are going to do a farce, then do a farce.

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

“What’s up, my niggah’!”

Now let’s talk about Buz Davis as Foul Ball and Paul Morris as T-Bone. Performance-wise I have no complaints. As a pair of loathsome, petty criminal, river rats they are top notch. I did feel that the dumb and dumber take on the characters was not a very interesting choice from a writing standpoint. Foul Ball could have been the more cunning of the two, the one that is always watching and listening. The one that has a bit more knowledge than he should about you, and enjoys letting you (and by extension the audience) know he knows.

“What’s up, niggah’!”

What I cannot  understand is the writer’s decision to use racial slur over and over and over. The last time I heard that much excessive and gratuitous repetition was the movie Robocop  (1987) and George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set on You.” Now, if Foul Ball and T-Bone were “white youth who adopts black youth culture by adopting its speech, wearing its clothes, and listening to its music,” the use would make sense in that context. But they are middle-aged white guys with beer bellies.

Aside from shock value, as far as I can tell, the words’ only purpose was to initiate the confrontation between Foul Ball and younger son Sean (played by Pete Wood). Since Sean doesn’t know the two hoodlums, Sean simply calling them out to calm it down would be enough to piss off Foul Ball. More appropriate to the time period would have Foul Ball call Sean a “faggot” to start the confrontation. Yes, this is a gay man telling you I would rather hear someone called a faggot on stage than to listen to a couple dozen variations of “What’s up, niggah’!”

There is no question that The Clifton Players is a group of talented actors. But the problem I’m seeing from the audience is that on stage are bunch of actors directed by an actor, not a bunch of actors directed by a director. The focus is so much on the scene and the character work that no one seems to be stepping back and looking at the overall production with a critical eye.

The script needs to give the audience a bit more exposition on the Pete Rose scandal. In SARGE, you were dealing with a recent scandal in the age of social media that involved the molestation of children. The Rose scandal took place 25 years ago. Most people 30 years old and younger have no recollection of it. If there are important elements of the scandal that you want to parallel in the play, the audience needs to be in the loop.

The events of the play take place between March 1989 and April 1990. Visually there are no clues for the audience to know how much time has passed between scenes or even what time of year it is. No calendar behind the bar. No holiday decorations come and go. One scene ends with a late night ominous phone call. The next begins with all the bar patrons coming back into the bar together. I thought several days had passed and they were returning from the bar owner’s funeral. Nope, it’s just the next day and they all just came in from saying goodbye to Pete Rose.

To be continued, if there in an interest (based on views of this part) and as time permits.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5


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