Between Rent Control and Crazy


Tune out the noise of various tenant-landlord tiffs in our pandemic-altered world and consider this fundamental question that carries actual signal from—of all places—the Broadway stage: What is the purpose of rent control?

That’s a query that lurks throughout “Between Riverside and Crazy” at The Hayes Theater. It hangs silently around the excellent performance of Stephen McKinley Henderson, who plays “Pops,” a retired cop clinging to a spacious apartment of worn elegance in New York City.

Rent control is Henderson’s unacknowledged co-star, begging the question of its own purpose constantly—but never explicitly—throughout the Pulitzer Prize-winning piece of work by Steven Adly Guirgis.

Here’s guessing that any landlord would quickly see the matter of rent control as fundamental to the story.

Tenants who have grown used to freezes and moratoria on evictions might be more likely to take rent control as nothing more than background, akin to the clever revolving sets that help transport the audience to Riverside Drive for 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Indeed, the question of rent control remains as silent as the sets while the story drives forward on explicitly stated themes of racial relations, policing, politics and family dynamics.

The explicit themes hold sway despite several lines that ground the story in the context of rent control. 

One of the lines comes in the first act, when an ambitious NYPD lieutenant named Caro is trying to get Pops to sign off on a modest settlement to his civil lawsuit instead of seeking a $5 million for being shot six times by a fellow officer.

Pops is determined to hold out despite the chance that enough personal muck will be dredged up to ruin his case and break the lease that keeps his monthly rent down around “$1,500 a month for a mansion on Riverside Drive that’s worth 10 times that much,” as Caro puts matters.

That’s where rent control is clearly revealed as a foundational premise of the story. It’s a building block of the life of its main character and the next generation or two of his family.

The NYPD lieutenant thinks he has a trump card to play on the rent-control lease: The old man’s son—a parolee—is moving stolen goods out of the place. And one of the son’s pals is another parolee with a stubborn desire for cocaine.

The ambitious lieutenant makes it clear that it wouldn’t be hard to put together whatever sort of case might be required to break the lease and get Pops tossed from his rent-controlled haven.

It gets worse for Pops in the second act, when it comes out that he wasn’t the all-star beat cop he claims to have been. And he might have been partially at fault for his own shooting at the hands of a fellow NYPD officer. And the explosive charge of racism he’s been claiming for years was concocted to juice his civil suit and claim for damages.

Read the rest of this piece at The Pulse on LinkedIn.

Jerry Sullivan is National Managing Editor at The Real Deal. You can follow him @SullivanSaysSC