It’s hard to quantify Visiting Mr Green, the Jeff Baron play currently being co-produced by Snapping Turtle Productions and the Pearl Company. Not to say it’s a bad production – quite the opposite, it’s an extremely worthy entry in the Pearl’s swansong season – or even necessarily a bad play. There is a lot to love about it, but there are some glaring elements that don’t quite work.
The titular Mr Green is an elderly Jewish man, recently widowed. One day, Mr Green receives an unexpected visitor, one Ross Gardiner. Ross, a young corporate executive, almost ran Mr Green over with his car, and, found guilty of reckless driving, has been ordered by a judge to visit Mr Green once a week for six months as community service.
As tends to happen in these sorts of stories, neither party is at first enthusiastic about the arrangement. It takes three full scenes of combative banter, mostly revolving around Mr Green’s stubborn aversion to being “bothered by strangers” and the somewhat tired joke of his cyclical conversation skills (BECAUSE HE’S OLD – GET IT???), before the two finally establish some common ground, bonding over their shared Jewish heritage, Mr Green’s late wife, and other topics.
This, of course, leads to a revelation about Ross that causes a schism between the two, which, in turn, dredges up secrets about Mr Green’s past – and because these revelations happen at the show’s midpoint, I can’t really reveal them here. Suffice it to say, the subject of these revelations DOES work to the play’s advantage, raising the stakes and allows Ross more to do (more on that shortly); however, it also works to its detriment, as Green’s rigid views on the subject (even though Baron clearly aims to criticize them) and his frankly dated reaction (you can tell this was written in the mid ‘90s) make it harder to sympathize with him as a character from then on, to the point that the play’s ultimate resolution feels somewhat unmerited.
Credit to Baron and director Sandi Katz, the buildup to these reveals is kept very subtle amidst the “getting-acquainted” shenanigans and jokes about kosher flatware; and while the dynamic of the two characters is familiar and mostly predictable, it’s elevated by the superb chemistry and comic timing of both its central players.
Howard Jerome is a revelation as Mr Green, convincingly doddering and yet sardonically witty, always in the moment with an emotional range that runs the complete gamut. The script makes it difficult to fully sympathize with him after a certain point – and like many a great Game of Thrones villain, the actor’s expert portrayal plays a big part in WHY that sympathy vanishes – but Jerome still wrings it out of you anyway.
Daniel Schneiderman’s Ross is tricky to judge, at first. He primarily serves as a straight man to the antics and attitudes of Jerome’s Green for the first third of the play, and in that respect, Schneiderman succeeds; however the result is a fairly bland character, which makes not compelling performances. Then the midpoint reveals happen, and suddenly Ross becomes carte blanche upon which Schneiderman may paint a textured, nuanced portrayal of a man struggling with how he presents to those around him; suddenly, Schneiderman has a greater emotional range and a believably heartbreaking delivery; his extended monologue at the start of the second act is an absolute highlight of the night.
Also a highlight: the overall appearance of the set. With contributions from Barb Brown, Linda Daleo, and producer Enid Aaron, the setting is very rich in detail, from the piles of old newspapers and phonebooks, to the small menorah on the mantle, to the freaking candy dish sitting on the table. One foot set in the Pearl, and you immediately know who lives there.
So on the one hand, it’s a very strong production, with a great set design and excellent performances. Yet on the other hand, the play itself, while not irrelevant by any means – if anything, its subject matter has an unnervingly contemporary resonance – is very much a product of when it was written, and feels limited by its genre. Nevertheless, a fun night out is had, so whatever flaws the script offers, it’s still worth paying Mr Green a visit.
Visiting Mr Green
Written by: Jeff Baron
Directed by: Sandi Katz
Playing at: The Pearl Company
16 Steven Street, Hamilton
Showdates: May 9-11 @ 8pm;
May 11 @ 2pm
Box Office: 905-524-0606 or online at thepearlcompany.ca