I got a chance to see Jeff Baron’sVisiting Mr. Green, this past weekend at Bob Carter’s Actor’s Repertory Company in West Palm Beach, and found the script so old-fashioned that I was initially surprised to find out it was written only in 1996—a little over twenty years ago!
Speaking of old-fashioned, it was pretty refreshing to see an elderly actor playing an elderly character instead of a younger actor made up to look old: Allan Myles Heyman as Mr. Green walked with a noticeable hunch and otherwise looked to be within a decade or so of his character’s 86 years. He gave a superb performance, nailing both the comedic bickering that defined the first half of the play and the more serious moments that arose in the second.
His acting partner in the two-character play, Nani Edry, was also earnest and likable as young businessman Ross Gardinier if maybe a little too likable and light-hearted; his initial irritation with Mr. Green could’ve been played more strongly to give the character more room for transformation, and the inner conflict about his sexuality he describes during the play’s second half could’ve used a slightly darker tint.
The two’s strange relationship begins when Ross accidentally runs over Mr. Green with his car and is then, in a pretty unrealistic turn of events, sentenced by a judge to make weekly visits to the old man as his form of community service. Neither Ross nor Mr. Green is very happy about this arrangement, and the ensuing conflict between them offered quite a few laughs—though it was also plagued by some overlong scene changes. The bond that begins to develop between the two after Ross finds out more about Mr. Green’s past and Mr. Green softens a bit was also genuinely moving.
However, things take a turn for the heavy-handed after Ross reveals his homosexuality to Mr. Green at the end of Act One. When Mr. Green vehemently states his distaste for Ross’s orientation, repeatedly calls him by the Yiddish slur “fagela,” then reveals that he disowned his daughter for marrying a non-Jew, I stopped seeing the character as a crotchety but sympathetic old man and began to grow frustrated with him.
Additionally, the script dragged even more once the drama began to overtake the humor, so I was more than ready for the play to conclude when it arrived at its ending. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that Mr. Green’s long-held prejudices against non-Jews and against homosexuals were too-quickly and too-neatly resolved. Before final bows, Ross successfully convinces Mr. Green to reinitiate contact with his previously estranged daughter, and it looks as if some happiness is finally in store for the senior. However, after 80some years of bigotry, I’m not sure if Mr. Green quite deserves it.