‘Visiting Mr Green’ themed on our combative, prejudice-riddled world

By Lesley Stones 21 May 2018

Photo by Philip Kuhn.

Numerous plays follow a theme of coming to terms with yourself through an unwelcome encounter with others. Two characters forced together whose mutual antipathy gradually thaws as they confront each other, and have their own prejudices exposed, challenged and ultimately overcome. Usually with a happy ending as they accept each other and allow new understanding to alter themselves, until they end up as best buddies. Aw, sweet!

In this combative, prejudice-riddled world, perhaps we need to watch as many of these stories as we can get, until we all take our final bow when the curtain closes on humanity.

Visiting Mr Green is another play of that ilk, this one with a particularly Jewish theme.

The play by Jeff Baron is set in New York, and stars Michael Richard as the cranky and irascible Mister Green. He’s an old man stumbling through recent widowhood after 49 years with his beloved wife. Richard has the mannerisms and guttural Russian Jewish accent down to a fine art.

Crashing into his life – quite literally – is Ross, a young man who almost knocks him over and is sentenced to visit his victim once a week for six months as community service.

Roberto Pombo is eminently watchable as the slightly gawky, whiny New Yorker carrying his own bag of neurosis along with his briefcase.

The plot unfolds in the classic manner of knock-knock, come on in, brief awkward encounter and end of scene as Baron fills in the backstory of his characters. Between each scene the audience can admire the rather neglected old person’s apartment designed by Denis Hutchinson and listen to breezy adverts from a radio somewhere in the room.

The story builds up slowly and gently, until an interval appears out of nowhere as an unnecessary and unwelcome visitor of its own after just 45 minutes of banter. Apparently the theatre contacted Baron to see if the play could be performed without an interval, but he refused. It’s a pity, because it disrupts the mood and emphasises how little has happened in the first half by closing a door on it, instead of letting it flow into the next scenes where the talk becomes more important and the play far more engrossing.

In the second half, director Alan Swerdlow really has his cast turn on the emotional taps as Mr Green is caught out in a lie about his family and Ross shocks and offends his host by revealing he is gay. Now both actors are in their element, Mr Green full of bluster and self-righteousness, and Ross building up emotionally from hurt confession to anguished defence. Pombo is playing this from his heart, and the impassioned plea for understanding eases the memory of the pedestrian scene-setting first half.

As their clashes expose secrets on both sides, the pair run through reactions that see them spar, cajole and finally console each other into a brighter future. The script has each character do so in their own way: Mr Green with taciturn responses that show a gradual thawing and empathy, and Ross with respectful but firm guidance to draw Mr Green into a more modern, less repressive world.

The theme has certainly been done before, and often with more punch, but this gentle show builds up into a satisfying ending. DM

Visiting Mr Green runs at Sandton’s Auto & General Theatre on the Square until June 9. Tickets from Computicket or 011 883-8606.


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