What a wonderful new play has opened Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, right in the dead of summer and without the kind of movie-star names that would catapult it directly to Broadway. But this is a genuine original, one that deserves to be seen by anyone hungry for a smart, exuberantly funny urban dramedy with a spirit as shrewd and forgiving as its motor-mouth language is wild and lush.

"Between Riverside and Crazy" is the latest by Stephen Adly Guirgis, best known for his unprintable Broadway hit, "The -- With the Hat," but also treasured for the five plays directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, his cohort at the LAByrinth Theater Company.

Almost all the seven-actor cast, keenly directed with layers of eccentricity and generosity by Austin Pendleton, come with stylistic expertise from the LAB and/or August Wilson plays. Stephen McKinley Henderson is riveting, a master of understated savvy as the cranky, aging ex-cop and heavy-drinking widower whose sprawling rent-controlled Upper West Side apartment is in the sights of real estate developers.

His place (displayed on a turntable in all its shabby lavishness by designer Walt Spangler) has become a refuge for the sweet, dangerous buddy (Victor Almanzar) of his disillusioned ex-con son (Ray Anthony Thomas). The women -- Rosal Colón and Liza Colón-Zayas -- luxuriate in delightfully comfortable womanliness, while Michael Rispoli and Elizabeth Canavan are more than cardboard white people as friendly cops with an agenda.

Some of the dialogue was a little hard to hear at a recent preview. With Guirgis' goofy locutions and come-from-behind wisdom, we really don't want to miss a word.


WHAT "Between Riverside and Crazy"

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WHERE Atlantic Theater Company, 336 W. 20th St.

INFO $65; 866-811-4111; atlantictheater.org

BOTTOM LINE Terrific, unpredictable new play