ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20─eat your way through town!

Elly Lichenstein Supreme Sweets 7.20

Elly Lichenstein, Cinnabar Theater’s artistic director, savors a chocolate cream bite at Supreme Sweets in downtown Petaluma, one of the new participants in Taste of Petaluma. In addition to creating one-off custom desserts that “wow” with imagination and artisanship, Supreme Sweets stocks oodles of homemade sweets at their bakery.  Supreme Sweets offers so many delectable flavor combinations of cupcakes that their webpage instructs visitors to call if they can’t find exactly what they want. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The 11th annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s all about connecting with Petaluma’s small-town charm and wonderful cuisine—bite by glorious bite.  Taste is a benefit for Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma’s beloved professional theater, which opens its 44th season in September with The Most Happy Fella, a heartwarming musical romance set in the Wine Country.  If you’ve ever attended one of Cinnabar’s remarkable performances on the old schoolhouse atop the hill, you know what a treasure Cinnabar is.   This year’s Taste features over 80 Petaluma restaurants and food, wine and beverage purveyors at 42 locales scattered across Petaluma’s historic downtown.  Over 60 musicians and dancers will be performing too, offering just as promising an entertainment menu (full performance schedule here). This culinary walking tour draws people from all over the Bay Area and $40 gets you 10 generously portioned tastes of your choosing.

Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder/organizer, in the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma. The baby is her arms is a plate of espresso ganache brownies by Out to Lunch Fine Catering. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder/organizer, in the lobby of the Hotel Petaluma. The baby is her arms is a plate of espresso ganache brownies by Out to Lunch Fine Catering. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“We have more new restaurants here than some towns have restaurants,” says Laura Sunday, Taste of Petaluma’s founder.  “Taste will guide you through the dozens of eateries that call Petaluma their home.  It’s a great day to wander around eating, sipping and hearing music with friends or family.  There’s something delicious at every turn.”

Recently, I was invited to attend two “mini Tastes” along with a number of the North Bay food writers.  Together, we visited eight downtown gems that represent Petaluma’s ever-changing food landscape─ Quinua Cocina Peruana, Out to Lunch Fine Catering, The Shuckery, Supreme Sweets, Thai River, Speakeasy and The Big Easy, Sonoma Spice Queen and Corkscrew Café and Wine Bar.

Two of our tastings took place within the newly restored Hotel Petaluma, which I recommend you get take a peek at during Taste.  The restoration isn’t quite complete but the lobby is finished and is so harmoniously appointed you’ll find yourself wanting to plop down and have a drink.  The spacious formal dining hall, with its tall ceilings and pastel blue plaster walls, fired my imagination, taking me back to times spent in Europe.  Its places like this and our beloved Petaluma Seed Bank and historic Cinnabar Theater that coax me to invite friends to Petaluma.  And then there’s the food!

The newcomers to Taste of Petaluma are previewed first; then the tried and true─

 

Quinua Cocina Peruana

Juan Guiterrez, owner of Quinua Cocina Peruana with his father/chef, Mauro Guiterrez, putting the finishing touches on their signature Ceviche de Pescado─fresh raw red snapper marinated in lime juice mixed with thinly sliced red onions and the traditional Peruvian hot Rocoto pepper. Quinua opened six months ago and is located at 500 Petaluma Blvd. South. For Taste, it will be hosted by Urban Elements Salon, 140 2nd Street, near Theatre Square. The salon will also host Kearsten Leder Photography which will take your complimentary photo for “People of Petaluma in Pictures.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Juan Guiterrez, owner of Quinua Cocina Peruana with his father/chef, Mauro Guiterrez, putting the finishing touches on their signature Ceviche de Pescado─fresh raw red snapper marinated in lime juice mixed with thinly sliced red onions and the traditional Peruvian hot Rocoto pepper. Quinua opened six months ago and is located at 500 Petaluma Blvd. South. For Taste, it will be hosted by Urban Elements Salon, 140 2nd Street, near Theatre Square. The salon will also host Kearsten Leder Photography which will take your complimentary photo for “People of Petaluma in Pictures.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Quinua’s Ceviche de Pescado is served garnished with camote (sweet potato), Peruvian white corn and crispy darker corn kernels from the Andes so that diners can experience that synthesis of flavors and textures distinct to Peruvian cuisine. Key to the flavor is a tiny amount of Rocoto pepper, an heirloom native to the Andes, which Guiterrez sources frozen from Peru. The pepper has relatively thick flesh, like a bell pepper, velvety leaves and resembles a small apple or pear. Before the heat kicks in, it has a sweet, citrus taste. In parts of South America they are referred to "el mas picante de los picantes." Quinua uses it sparingly and effectively. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Quinua’s Ceviche de Pescado is served garnished with camote (sweet potato), Peruvian white corn and crispy darker corn kernels from the Andes so that diners can experience that synthesis of flavors and textures distinct to Peruvian cuisine. Key to the flavor is a tiny amount of Rocoto pepper, an heirloom native to the Andes, which Guiterrez sources frozen from Peru. The pepper has relatively thick flesh, like a bell pepper, velvety leaves and resembles a small apple or pear. Before the heat kicks in, it has a sweet, citrus taste. In parts of South America they are referred to “el mas picante de los picantes.” Quinua uses it sparingly and effectively. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Out to Lunch Fine Catering

Bethany Barsman, owner of Out to Lunch Fine Catering, puts finishing touches on tasting plates of Coconut Prawn with Mango Aoli; Sausage-stuffed Mushroom with Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses; Vegetarian Samoza with Mango Chutney, garnished with thyme, rosemary and sage; and Vietnamese Rice Roll with chili sauce. Out to Lunch catering is the preferred caterer of The Petaluma Hotel, 205 Kentucky Street, which is hosting Out to Lunch for Taste of Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Bethany Barsman, owner of Out to Lunch Fine Catering, puts finishing touches on tasting plates of Coconut Prawn with Mango Aoli; Sausage-stuffed Mushroom with Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses; Vegetarian Samoza with Mango Chutney, garnished with thyme, rosemary and sage; and Vietnamese Rice Roll with chili sauce. Out to Lunch catering is the preferred caterer of The Petaluma Hotel, 205 Kentucky Street, which is hosting Out to Lunch for Taste of Petaluma. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Out to Lunch Fine Catering will offer a Sausage-stuffed Mushroom w/ Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses (second up from bottom) and a Vegetarian Curried Potato & Pea Samosa with Mango Chutney (third up from bottom). Hosted by Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Out to Lunch Fine Catering will offer a Sausage-stuffed Mushroom w/ Roasted Peppers, Caramelized Onions & Cheeses (second up from bottom) and a Vegetarian Curried Potato & Pea Samosa with Mango Chutney (third up from bottom). Hosted by Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Shuckery

Jazmine Lalicker, co-owner of The Shuckery, the newly-opened 54-seat oyster bar and restaurant, housed in the Petaluma Hotel. The Shuckery features exquisite fresh oysters and seafood from pristine waters all across North America, local wines, and Chef Seth Harvey’s cuisine, inspired by our local bounty. Jazmine is in partnership with her sister Aluxa Lalicker. The duo has been enormously successful as The Oyster Girls, the Tamales Bay-based traveling oyster bar that has been delighting the Bay Area since 2007 with oysters and pizzazz. The Petaluma Hotel’s atmosphere is an added boon. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Jazmine Lalicker, co-owner of The Shuckery, the newly-opened 54-seat oyster bar and restaurant, housed in the Petaluma Hotel. The Shuckery features exquisite fresh oysters and seafood from pristine waters all across North America, local wines, and Chef Seth Harvey’s cuisine, inspired by our local bounty. Jazmine is in partnership with her sister Aluxa Lalicker. The duo has been enormously successful as The Oyster Girls, the Tamales Bay-based traveling oyster bar that has been delighting the Bay Area since 2007 with oysters and pizzazz. The Petaluma Hotel’s atmosphere is an added boon. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste of Petaluma, The Shuckery will offer Ceviche Misto─ rockfish, shrimp, bay scallop, piquillo pepper coulis, citrus, and cilantro on a white corn tortilla. The Shuckery is at 100 Washnigton Street

For Taste of Petaluma, The Shuckery will offer Ceviche Misto─ rockfish, shrimp, bay scallop, piquillo pepper coulis, citrus, and cilantro on a white corn tortilla. The Shuckery is at 100 Washington Street

Supreme Sweets

Christina Danner, owner and confectionery artist behind Supreme Sweets, is a temptress. Her mouthwatering cupcakes and cookies, all baked from scratch, urge customers to break all their resolutions. That’s just the top of the iceberg. This Sonoma-born mother of three and former admin assistant, used to bake special cakes for fun. She so wowed people with her artisanship that she was convinced to open her own business. Taste offerings will include a variety of freshly-baked sweets to choose from and a cup of coffee or tea. Gluten free options will also be available. Danner is holding her salted caramel cupcakes, her most popular item right now. Supreme Sweets is at 228 Petaluma Blvd. North. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Christina Danner, owner and confectionery artist behind Supreme Sweets, is a temptress. Her mouthwatering cupcakes and cookies, all baked from scratch, urge customers to break all their resolutions. This Sonoma-born mother of three and former admin assistant, used to bake special cakes for fun. She so wowed people with her artisanship that she was convinced to open her own business. Taste offerings will include a variety of freshly-baked sweets to choose from and a cup of coffee or tea. Gluten free options will also be available. Danner is holding her salted caramel cupcakes, her most popular item right now. Supreme Sweets is at 228 Petaluma Blvd. North. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Hay Bales─moist cake coated with white chocolate and rolled in crispy toasted coconut, a delectable homage to our county’s farming traditions. Supreme Sweets also does a mean Buckeye─ round peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Hay Bales─moist cake coated with white chocolate and rolled in crispy toasted coconut, a delectable homage to our county’s farming traditions. Supreme Sweets also does a mean Buckeye─ round peanut butter balls dipped in dark chocolate. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River

Langlet Sawaluck (“Louise”), manager of Thai River, with Mango Prawn Panang. Langlet opened Petaluma’s beloved Thai Ginger restaurant in 2003 which she left after 7 years to open Novato’s Thai Bistro in 2011. She so missed Petaluma that she jumped at the chance to open Thai River with her husband Frederic Langlet, owner, and sister, Chef Jantra Tokratok. Langlet is especially proud of her curries; the curry pastes are blended on the premises and she takes advantage of seasonal offerings, like mangos, to create authentic Thai delicacies. Every dish is bursting with color and often topped with orchids. Thai River is at 35 East Washington Street, just across the street from the Golden Eagle Shopping Center and offers an extensive take-out menu. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Langlet Sawaluck (“Louise”), manager of Thai River, with Mango Prawn Panang. Langlet opened Petaluma’s beloved Thai Ginger restaurant in 2003 which she left after 7 years to open Novato’s Thai Bistro in 2011. She so missed Petaluma that she jumped at the chance to open Thai River with her husband Frederic Langlet (owner), and sister, Chef Jantra Tokratok. Langlet is especially proud of her curries; the curry pastes are blended on the premises and she takes advantage of seasonal offerings, like mangos, to create authentic Thai delicacies. Every dish is bursting with color and often topped with orchids. Thai River is at 35 East Washington Street, just across the street from the Golden Eagle Shopping Center and offers an extensive take-out menu. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River’s Red Curry Chicken. For Taste, Thai River will offer an Imperial roll (deep fried egg roll stuffed with shrimp, pork and silver noodles and homemade sauce) and a choice of Red Curry Chicken or Tom Kha (coconut milk soup w/ vegetables). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Thai River’s Red Curry Chicken. For Taste, Thai River will offer an Imperial roll (deep fried egg roll stuffed with shrimp, pork and silver noodles and homemade sauce) and a choice of Red Curry Chicken or Tom Kha (coconut milk soup w/ vegetables). Photo: Geneva Anderson

Speakeasy and The Big Easy

Amber Driscoll and Roger Tschann, have built their reputations on serving elegant tapas-style delicacies sourced from fresh local ingredients. Speakeasy has been so successful as Petaluma’s only late night gourmet restaurant that, recently, the couple expanded across American alley with The Big Easy. This underground restaurant and jazz club delivers live music six nights per week, a palette-rocking dinner menu (from Speakeasy) and an extended list of wine by the bottle─all until 2 a.m. every day. At The Big Easy, the sound is clear and the ambiance is enhanced by vintage wooden booths and a long elegant bar. For Taste, the Big Easy will host Sonoma Cider and Best Damn Rootbeer serving a variety of Sonoma Cider Stillwater Spirits in delicious cocktails. Petaluma’s Morris Distributing will serve non-alcoholic drinks including Guayaki Yerba Mate, Hint waters, Cock n'Bull Ginger Beer, Sprecher’s Root Beers and Marley's Mellow Mood teas. Located 128 American Alley. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Amber Driscoll and Roger Tschann, have built their reputations on serving elegant tapas-style delicacies sourced from fresh local ingredients. Speakeasy has been so successful as Petaluma’s only late night gourmet restaurant that, recently, the couple expanded across American alley with The Big Easy. This underground restaurant and jazz club delivers live music six nights per week, a palette-rocking dinner menu (from Speakeasy) and an extended list of wine by the bottle─all until 2 a.m. every day. At The Big Easy, the sound is clear and the ambiance is enhanced by vintage wooden booths and a long elegant bar. For Taste, the Big Easy will host Sonoma Cider and Best Damn Rootbeer serving a variety of Sonoma Cider Stillwater Spirits in delicious cocktails. Petaluma’s Morris Distributing will serve non-alcoholic drinks including Guayaki Yerba Mate, Hint waters, Cock n’Bull Ginger Beer, Sprecher’s Root Beers and Marley’s Mellow Mood teas. Located 128 American Alley. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, Speakeasy will serve Crab, Mango & Green Papaya Salad with curry mayonnaise dressing and fresh herbs (top). Also shown is their refreshing Rock Cod and Mango Ceviche over homemade tortilla chips. Speakeasy offers a scrumptious brunch on Saturday and Sunday and their Creamy Lobster Mac and Cheese with Bacon has become a classic. Located at 139 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite B, at Putnam Plaza. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, Speakeasy will serve Crab, Mango & Green Papaya Salad with curry mayonnaise dressing and fresh herbs (top). Also shown is their refreshing Rock Cod and Mango Ceviche over homemade tortilla chips. Speakeasy offers a scrumptious brunch on Saturday and Sunday and their Creamy Lobster Mac and Cheese with Bacon has become a classic. Located at 139 Petaluma Blvd. North, Suite B, at Putnam Plaza. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen

Petaluma’s Wind McAlister turned her life-long enthusiasm for spices and different cultures and cuisines into a booming business, Sonoma Spice Queen, the only 100% organic spice shop in the county. Her spice boutique offers a dazzling array of small-batch organic spices, all selected, prepared and handsomely packaged by McAlister herself, who is always adding new mixes and rubs to her offerings. When you enter her shop, be prepared for intoxicating aromas and the impulse to grab one of everything. McAlister recently obtained a commercial kitchen license for her C Street store front and will be offering cooking classes in the near future. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Petaluma’s Wind McAlister turned her life-long enthusiasm for spices and different cultures and cuisines into a booming business, Sonoma Spice Queen, the only 100% organic spice shop in the county. Her spice boutique offers a dazzling array of small-batch organic spices, all selected, prepared and handsomely packaged by McAlister herself, who is always adding new mixes and rubs to her offerings. When you enter her shop, be prepared for intoxicating aromas and the impulse to grab one of everything. McAlister recently obtained a commercial kitchen license for her C Street store front and will be offering cooking classes in the near future. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen will offer a Caribbean-themed taste─Jamaican Jerk Chicken or Spiced Farm Greens (vegan) topped with a spiced Mango relish, over Cuban-style black beans in a bed of Haitian-style sweet savory rice with coconut cream and lime. A Caribbean-inspired chai is also included─black tea, organic vanilla sugar, coconut, caramelized cut pineapple, McAlister’s organic Chai mix and milk. Traditionally, Jamaican jerk is extremely hot but McAlister will offer a toned-down version. The Jamaican jerk mix sold at her shop, however, is culturally appropriate and packs a lot of spicy heat. Located at 407 C Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sonoma Spice Queen will offer a Caribbean-themed taste─Jamaican Jerk Chicken or Spiced Farm Greens (vegan) topped with a spiced Mango relish, over Cuban-style black beans in a bed of Haitian-style sweet savory rice with coconut cream and lime. A Caribbean-inspired chai is also included─black tea, organic vanilla sugar, coconut, caramelized cut pineapple, McAlister’s organic Chai mix and milk. Traditionally, Jamaican jerk is extremely hot but McAlister will offer a toned-down version. The Jamaican jerk mix sold at her shop, however, is culturally appropriate and packs a lot of spicy heat. Located at 407 C Street. Photo: Geneva Anderson

CorkScrew Wine Bar

CorkScrew Wine Bar Owner Basha Quilici long dreamed of opening a wine bar, especially after designing them for clients. Petaluma’s welcoming atmosphere inspired her to create a bar of her own with a European vibe. CorkScrew is nestled in the charming cobblestoned pedestrian walkway where one end of Western Avenue meets the bustling boulevard and the river, and it offers both indoor and open air seating. Quilici takes pride in the variety of fine wines and beers offered and in food prepared from locally sourced ingredients and vendors such as Full Circle Bakery, Sonoma Brinery and our area’s treasured artisan cheesemakers. There is live music on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every fourth Thursday of the month, Corkscrew offers its Sunset Winemaker Series with thematic wine tastings or featured winemakers. Photo: Geneva Anderson

CorkScrew Wine Bar Owner Basha Quilici long dreamed of opening a wine bar, especially after designing them for clients. Petaluma’s welcoming atmosphere inspired her to create a bar of her own with a European vibe. CorkScrew is nestled in the charming cobblestoned pedestrian walkway where one end of Western Avenue meets the bustling boulevard and the river, and it offers both indoor and open air seating. Quilici takes pride in the variety of fine wines and beers offered and in food prepared from locally sourced ingredients and vendors such as Full Circle Bakery, Sonoma Brinery and our area’s treasured artisan cheesemakers. There is live music on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Every fourth Thursday of the month, Corkscrew offers its Sunset Winemaker Series with thematic wine tastings or featured winemakers. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, CorkScrew will serve Vegan Avocado Coconut Toasts ─avocado & toasted unsweetened coconut with red pepper flakes on Full Circle Bakery baguette. The avocado toast pairs very nicely with their white tap wine, an unfiltered and unfined Sauvignon blanc. Photo: Geneva Anderson

For Taste, CorkScrew will serve Vegan Avocado Coconut Toasts ─avocado & toasted unsweetened coconut with red pepper flakes on Full Circle Bakery baguette. The avocado toast pairs very nicely with their white tap wine, an unfiltered and unfined Sauvignon blanc. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Taste of Petaluma Details:

The 11th Annual Taste of Petaluma is Saturday, August 20, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 4 PM.  Ticket packages are $40 and consist of 10 tasting tickets, good for 1 taste each.  Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the event from 10:30 AM onwards at Helen Putnam Plaza.  Only 1500 tickets will be sold.  Advance Tickets can be purchased online here (with surcharge) and must be picked up on the day of the event.  Advance tickets can be purchased in person until Friday, August 19, 3 p.m. at the following venues in Petaluma—Blush Collections (117 Kentucky Street), Cinnabar Theater (333 Petaluma Blvd. North), Gallery One (209 Western Ave.), and Velvet Ice Collections (140 2nd Street, Theater Square).  All Advance tickets need to be picked up at WILL CALL at Helen Putnam Plaza (129 Petaluma Blvd. North) after 10:30 AM on the day of the event.

All participants receive a plastic wine glass.  You can purchase more tickets throughout the day for $4 each.

Parking Alert: Parking downtown is 2 hours.   Just a couple blocks out of downtown there are no restrictions.   The Theater Square garage has unlimited, free parking.   The Keller St. garage is 4 hours, except for the top floor which is 10 hours.  Parking tickets are $50. Be forewarned and read the signs.  

August 14, 2016 Posted by | Food, Theater, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: ACT’s sensational season opener, 2015 Pulitzer winner “Between Riverside and Crazy”

Walter “Pops” Washington (Carl Lumbly, left) argues with his son, Junior (Samuel Ray Gates, right), while Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez, center) reads the newspaper in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Pulitzer Prize–winning dark comedy,

Walter “Pops” Washington (Carl Lumbly, left) argues with his son, Junior (Samuel Ray Gates, right), while Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez, center) reads the newspaper in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Pulitzer Prize–winning dark comedy, “Between Riverside and Crazy,” at American Conservatory Theater (ACT) through September 27, 2015. Photo by Kevin Berne

Everything clicked Wednesday evening at ACT (American Conservatory Theater) which opened its 2015-6 season with Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama.  Drawn from real life, the story, which had the audience laughing all night with its biting dialogue and superb acting, captures a dark period in the life of ex-NYC cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington, marvel Carl Lumbly.   “Pops” has a full set of problems which are only compounded by the company of ne’er-do-wells surrounding him.  He is trying to stave off eviction from his gigantic rent stabilized apartment on Riverside Drive while he waits for a hefty settlement from a racial discrimination suit he filed against NYPD 8 years back.  He’s also keeping tabs on Junior, his newly-paroled son (Samuel Ray Gates) who seems to be using the apartment for fencing stolen goods and who has moved his girlfriend, Lulu (Elia Monte-Brown), in, who might be a hooker.  Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez), an addict in recovery, is another questionable houseguest.  It’s no wonder that Pops is drinking.

While the entire cast is superb, Carl Lumbly, “Pops,” who hails from Berkley, is the glue that holds this superbly measured tragic-comedy together.  He has that wonderful sense of ease on stage that allows him to completely embody a character and to relate genuinely to everyone.

Carl Lumbly stars as Walter “Pops” Washington in Stephen Adly Guirgis’

Carl Lumbly stars as Walter “Pops” Washington in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “Between Riverside and Crazy.” Photo by Kevin Berne

Lumbly, garnered national attention as NYPD Detective Marcus Petrie on the CBS police drama Cagney & Lacey and as CIA Agent Marcus Dixon on the ABC espionage drama series Alias, is well known for his remarkable theatrical performances.  In 2013, at San Francisco Playhouse he played the lead character in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ tragicomedy, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, along with Gabriel Marin, who plays a police detective in this play.

As with so many plays drawn from controversial real-life events, perspective is everything and the brilliance of this Guirgis play is that it shrewdly limits itself to a few perspectives, ensuring that we learn everything about Pops and his past from either Pops or the two white NYPD detectives (his former partner (Stacey Ross) and her fiancé (Gabriel Marin) who come calling to try and dissuade him from pursuing his lawsuit against the NYPD.

The crux of the play is that Pops, confined to a wheelchair, has been seething in anger for years over being shot and has been finding consolation in a bottle.  He believes his shooting was a racially motivated crime rather than an accident and he wants “justice” and has held out for 8 years hoping for recognition that his civil rights were violated.  It’s very easy to fall for Pops and into his mindset.  As time passes, however, we learn that, in order to receive a more lucrative settlement, he embellished his story saying that the white cop that shot him called him “nigger” and we learn that, on the evening he was shot, he was off duty at a seedy bar and didn’t identify himself as police officer and his blood alcohol level was very high.  That seems to change everything, or does it?  Guirgis, who based the play on an actual shooting that happened in 1994, is exploring the limits of truth and the race factor.

How do we decide who to believe in a shooting that is tainted with claims of racial motivation? Pops may have been lying when he said the cop who shot him called a name, but it is also possible that the cop was motivated by an implicit bias, which is almost impossible to prove.

The domestic chaos in the household seems a perfect accompaniment for Pops’ inner turmoil and one of the pleasures of Between Riverside and Crazy is Guirgis’ vivid contemplation of character.  Guirgis has long had a fascination with strugglers, strivers, misfits and perennial outsiders and they all come together in this crumbling apartment─each a slave to some form of self-destruction and each with a cover story that cracks as time passes. The push-pull drama is funny, sad and believable.

The Church Lady (Catherine Castellanos) prays for Walter “Pops” Washington (Carl Lumbly, left) in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize–winning dark comedy,

The Church Lady (Catherine Castellanos) prays for Walter “Pops” Washington (Carl Lumbly, left) in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize–winning dark comedy, “Between Riverside and Crazy”. Photo by Kevin Berne

We first meet well-meaning Oswaldo (Lakin Valdez), a junkie who is committed to rehabilitation but slips up.  His affection for Pops in Act 1 is palpable. His colorful riff on eating healthy which involves a diet of fresh organic raw almonds instead of Ring Dings with baloney and Fanta Grape unfolds like poetry. When Pop’s son’s fiancé, Lulu (Elia Monte-Brown), waltzes into the kitchen in short shorts and tries to wrap Pops around her finger, sweetness delivered in a Hispanic Brooklyn accent, we just know she’s trouble and not really studying accounting.  And Pop’s parolee son, Junior (Chris Butler), with whom he seems to have a strained relationship, purports to be walking the straight and narrow but his partying and strange comings and goings lead us to suspect he’s up to no good.  And then there’s the dynamic seductress “Church Lady” (Catherine Castellanos) who delivers a “Spiritual treatment” that sends Pops straight into cardiac arrest.

And Gabriel Marin, as Lt. Caro has a wonderful stage presence.  Seeing him again on stage with Lumbly, after their pairings at SF Playhouse (The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2013), Storefront Church (2013),  Jesus Hopped the “A” Train (2007)) makes me realize how magical their chemistry is.

All the action takes place in the confines of the kitchen and living room, essentially one large set, masterfully designed by Chris Barreca.  The space evokes the fading grandeur of those magical old large Riverside apartments from the era when middle class workers in New York really had some space.  Pops’ wife has passed recently so the place looks neglected with its ratty appliances, distressed cabinets and old linoleum but it’s got very good bones.

Director Irene Lewis’ pacing of this two hour play is near perfect with the first part devoted to Pops’ extended dysfunctional family and the second, a life-altering visit from Church Lady, revelations about his lawsuit, and an unexpected ending.

Carl Lumbly on playing “Pops”─ Pops has had to walk a hard line, and as a black man of his time, growing up and making the choice to become a police officer—perhaps in a neighborhood in which most people went a completely different way—was a complex decision.  As his career went on, I believe he saw some things that made him proud of having made that choice.  But over time, being tossed up against the serrated edge of reality that operates in situations where people are acting out of desperation, he saw some pretty awful forms of human behavior, in perpetrators and criminals as well as in the system of justice that gets applied to hold them in check. …Because he doesn’t have legitimate power any longer, illegitimate power achieved by lies in the face of unfairness doesn’t feel like the worst strategy.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.  Directed by Irene Lewis

Cast: Chris Butler (Junior), Catherine Castellanos (Church Lady), Carl Lumbly (Walter “Pops” Washington), Gabriel Marin (Lieutenant Caro), Elia Monte-Brown (Lulu), Stacey Ross (Detective O’Conner), and Lakin Valdez (Oswaldo)

Creative Team: Chris Barreca (set design), Seth Resier (lighting design), Candice Donnelly (costume design), Leon Rothenberg (sound design)

Run-time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission

Details: Between Riverside and Crazy runs through September 27, 2015 at American Conservatory Theater, 405 Geary Street, San Francisco.  Performances are 8 p.m. most Tuesdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. most Wednesdays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. most Sundays. Tickets: $25 to $125, phone 415.749.2228, or visit www.act-sf.org.

September 15, 2015 Posted by | Theater | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment