`Green' is worth getting to know

Review: `Visiting Mr. Green' isn't a great play, but its moving performances warm the heart.

May 16, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It isn't the plot (which is fairly contrived) or its resolution (which is far too pat) that holds your interest in Jeff Baron's off-Broadway hit, "Visiting Mr. Green."

What draws you in is the relationship between the play's two characters, who are movingly portrayed at Everyman Theatre, under Vincent M. Lancisi's discerning direction.

Indeed, in the course of this mid-Atlantic premiere, you'll find yourself rooting for both characters, exasperating and headstrong as they may be at times.

For much of the evening, those qualities appear to be all that Kyle Prue's Ross Gardiner and Stan Weiman's Mr. Green have in common.

Before the play begins, Ross, a 29-year-old executive, has been charged with reckless driving for nearly running over an octogenarian pedestrian, Mr. Green. The judge has sentenced Ross to community service; specifically, he is required to visit Mr. Green every Thursday at 7 p.m. for six months.

The sentence pleases neither of them. When Ross arrives for his first visit, Mr. Green doesn't recognize him. Tottering painstakingly out of his bedroom, with a vague, slightly confused look on his lined face, Weiman looks every one of the 86 years his character is supposed to be.

When Ross explains who he is and why he's here, cantankerous Mr. Green calls him a "murderer." Later, after Ross realizes that the recently widowed Mr. Green has stopped eating, Weiman's depiction of a shaky, severely depressed senior citizen becomes wrenching; it is the most affecting performance I've seen this Everyman company member deliver yet.

For his part, briefcase-toting Prue initially conveys the aura of the busy young exec on the rise, a man who can't be bothered with this community service nonsense. Ross doesn't want to be here, and Mr. Green doesn't want him here.

Yet under both men's gruff exteriors lurks a vestige of a heart, a vestige of a need to connect. Sometimes we can connect better with strangers than with our own family, and that, predictably, is what happens in "Visiting Mr. Green."

Ross and Mr. Green gradually open up, reach out and help each other. As is also to be expected, they find more than a few similarities in their lives (not the least of which is that both are Jewish, a discovery the extremely religious Mr. Green is surprised but gratified to make).

Baron, who began his writing career in film and TV, peppers his script with humor. ("I'm calling the judge. I'd rather go to jail," a frustrated Ross says early on. "Good," Mr. Green replies. "Then I'll come visit you.") But the humor isn't tacked on. It's a key to the characters' hidden good natures.

Besides the detailed characterizations, credit also should go to set designer Daniel Ettinger for his carefully detailed creation of Mr. Green's shabby apartment, replete with discarded newspapers and a window that - from the thick layer of grime to the proximity of the neighboring apartment building - is pure New York.

By the way, it's significant that we never learn Mr. Green's first name. The elderly and the very young often are reduced to first names, even by those who barely know them.

But whatever indignities age and circumstances may have thrust on the play's title character, and however much Ross initially resents having to spend time with him, this elderly gentleman never loses his honorific.

By retaining that symbol of respect, playwright Baron acknowledges that age has its privileges. Wisdom is one of those privileges; another is the realization that you are never too old to learn.

Not a great play, "Visiting Mr. Green" is nonetheless a warm character study, and Everyman's fine performances make it well worth a visit.

`Visiting Mr. Green'

Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 3

Tickets: $15-$20

Call: 410-752-2208

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