Riverside Drive makes a nice address, but it lacks one amenity: moral clarity. For longtime cop Walter “Pops” Washington (Stephen McKinley Henderson), that means nursing his wounds eight years after having been shot by a white rookie while drunk and off-duty in a shady den. Embittered, Pops holds out for a cash settlement and lashes out at the folks around him, denying all responsibility for his growing drinking problem. He protects his family, even as he menaces them; the proof lies in his tenacious hold on their rent-controlled apartment.
Between Riverside and Crazy, a new drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, wants to demonstrate how often our actions are neither good nor bad, merely driven by emotional needs and injuries. But Guirgis gives us too many characters with too much social dysfunction to make us care about most of them. The script piles it on so steadily that its essential contrivance is exposed. That’s too bad — Guirgis supplies frequently witty, miles-a-minute dialogue, and Henderson settles into a nicely centered performance in a role defined by contradictory impulses. But because we’re always conscious of the gray shades of behavior, a certain sense of inconsequence sets in. In the end, it’s hard to understand why a play about policing, race, alcoholism, and Manhattan real estate isn’t more trenchant — even when it’s so centrally located.