Stephen McKinley Henderson’s role in the recent Broadway revival of “A Raisin in the Sun” was really just a glorified cameo. He popped out to deliver bad news to Denzel Washington, like a messenger of doom, and then exited. If you blinked you missed him.
However, Henderson, who has appeared in a number of August Wilson plays and in films like “Tower Heist” and “Lincoln,” finally gets to be the big man on campus in “Between Riverside and Crazy,” a gritty, often hilarious new work by Stephen Adly Guirgis (“The Motherf----- with the Hat”) being produced Off-Broadway.
Henderson plays Pops, an African-American ex-NYPD officer and widower who was serious injured in what may have been a hate crime and has been pursuing a lawsuit against the city for years with no intent to back down.
Recently, his hold on his rent-controlled apartment has been thrown into jeopardy by the havoc wrecked by his middle-aged, recently imprisoned son’s drug-addicted pals. His physical condition is deteriorating and his drinking is a cause for concern.
The bulk of the play consists of friends and family trying to talk some sense into the unshakably stubborn Pops. In one especially memorable scene at the top of act two, a spiritually inclined female proves to Pops that he can still get an erection in spite of his bullet wounds.
Austin Pendleton’s production is marked by a spinning set that shows off the apartment in all its expansive, ramshackle glory (including the bathroom).
Henderson gives what is no doubt his deepest performance to date, capturing the highs and lows of his volatile character.
One gets the impression that the play is not quite finished, with scenes towards the end that drag and are increasingly strange, but that’s often the case with Guirgis’ characteristically rough plays.
It’s rare to have a play that deals so intently with the realities of New York City housing, police and politics.
If you go: “Between Riverside and Crazy” plays at the Linda Gross Theater through. 336 W. 20th St., atlantictheater.org.