James Wheatley. James Wheatley. James Wheatley. You can’t say his name enough nor praise his performance at Capital Stage too highly. As “Pops” Washington, a former policeman now retired on disability, he is both the heart and soul of “Between Riverside and Crazy,” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
Wheatley, who is founder, artistic director, choreographer, playwright and anything-else-that-needs-to-be-done at Sacramento’s Celebration Arts, rarely gets to concentrate solely on acting, but when he does — watch out!
Walter “Pops” Washington is newly widowed and being pressured by the New York Police Department to sign off on a settlement to his lawsuit relating to his being shot by a white rookie cop at an after-hours bar. Walter is holding out for a settlement he considers more fair than that being offered. He sees a racial element to both the shooting and the settlement offer. The police, naturally see it differently.
Adding to Walter’s problems is a landlord who is trying to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment where he lives with his newly paroled son Junior (James R. Ellison, III) and an assortment of troubled and troublesome fictive kin (Oswaldo, played by Nestor Campos, Jr., and his girlfriend Lulu, played by Viktoria Luna).
When Walter’s former cop partner Detective O’Connor (Kelley Ogden) and her fiancé Lieutenant Caro (Aaron Wilton) are brought in to pressure Walter to accept the settlement that seems to grow smaller by the minute, things get personal and nasty.
Is “Pops” crazy or “crazy like a fox?”
Wheatley tears into this challenging role, convincingly alcoholic, weak and grieving one minute and steely-eyed and stubborn the next. It is hard to imagine this role played any better.
Directed by Judith Moreland, Wheatley is surrounded by a superior cast of supporting actors. Ellison and Campos make excellent opposite brothers, Luna brings a sketchy ambivalence to the girlfriend, and Dena Martinez is engaging as the Church Lady whose goals and actions are not exactly holy.
Ogden, as Washington’s former partner, creates a strong bond of affection that gets sorely tested by the “negotiations,” while Wilton, who has been excellent in several previous appearances at Capital Stage, gives a defining portrayal of the suck-up cop Caro. After “Pops,” this may be the best written and best played role in the drama.
“Between Riverside and Crazy” continues through Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. Tuesday-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Capital Stage, 2215 J St. Tickets are $32-$44.
For tickets or for more information, call (916) 995-5464 or go to CapStage.org.
Photo by Char Crail