by Jeff Baron
Directed by Brett Turner
Performance - Thursday 30 April 2015 (Second week)
Mr Green didn’t have very much in his fridge but Williamstown Little Theatre certainly amassed a wonderful array of gourmet ingredients to make a delectable night of theatre in Visiting Mr Green with director Brett Turner as master chef baking to perfection the recipe provided by Jeff Baron’s engaging script.
It has to be admitted that the recipe itself is a little like one of grandma’s, a bit old-fashioned but lovingly and competently cooked.
Jeff Baron wrote Visiting Mr Green in the mid-1990s setting it in contemporary times. The play however feels as though it is set some decades further back in time given Ross’ fear of revealing his sexuality and Mr Green’s professed naïvety about such things as American Express, surely unlikely for even a rather reclusive 1990’s Manhattan resident.
This aside, the structure of the play provided a solid foundation with five “visits” in each act, each allowing us to develop progressively greater insight into the habits and lives of the two protagonists. The surprises were nicely paced without being blatantly telegraphed ahead of time.
Visiting Mr Green begins innocuously as a comedy about two men, an octogenarian widower and a company executive some fifty years his junior. Each is resentful at being compelled to spend time together but the play develops a more dramatic focus as the two men interact and family secrets and wounds are revealed. The points of commonality, Jewish heritage, loneliness and, above all, fractures in family relationships, make for deeper thought.
Full marks to Brett Turner for evoking such sensitive and sincere performances from his actors. The production was beautifully paced to make the situations and the conversations seem natural without ever a hint of caricature.
The physicality of Trevor Hanna’s performance as Mr Green was breathtaking with the stooped posture and laboured shuffle, augmented by smaller refinements such as facial tics and tiny finger movements sustained throughout the performance, adding years to his age. Vocal intonation and accent also contributed to the characterisation without ever sacrificing projection. His comic retorts were also impeccably well timed.
Kieran Tracey performed well in the less flamboyant role as Ross. His facial expressions were very evocative and his increasing concern for Mr Green’s welfare and his exasperation at various times were clearly presented. The description of his father’s behaviour in the restaurant was one of the most poignant and heartfelt in the play.
The interactions between the two actors were always believable and the embrace, when it came, moved the audience with understanding and compassion.
We came to realise that Mr Green’s oft repeated statement that he and his wife “had never had an argument” had in fact stifled communication as contentious concepts, such as a Jewish daughter marrying outside her faith, were never openly discussed.
The visual aspects of WLT’s staging of Visiting Mr Green contributed markedly to its impact. George Tranter’s dingy green set established the tone well with the long serving furniture and the frugality of the fridge and cupboard contents clearly evident.
The thoughtful set dressing included huge amounts of clutter, some of which disappeared under Ross’ ministrations as the play progressed. Much attention had gone into assembling props including food containers, the hoarded brown paper bags, cleaning gear etc.
The transformation for the final scene, with tablecloths and doilies out in anticipation of Rachel’s imminent arrival, was quite remarkable implying a change in atmosphere and attitude.
What was really interesting however was the residual – carefully placed photographs and ornaments which presumably had been there from the late Mrs Green’s time. Her presence in the widower’s thoughts was symbolized by the crocheted rug, which had always been moved between each of Ross’ visits, and the knitting bag still resolutely standing at the end of the couch at the play’s conclusion even when the rug had been neatly folded.
Wardrobe choices by Tony Tartaro were intelligent and clearly indicated each character’s trajectory with Mr Green smartening himself up along the way and Ross developing a more casual style symbolic of his becoming more comfortable in the situation.
Lighting design by Craig Pearcey complemented the play well and left a lasting impression in the play’s final moments with pin lights glowing on photos of the three women in Mr Green’s life, his mother, his wife and his daughter, plus the menorah all carefully arranged in different areas of the stage.
The production’s audio design suited the mood save for one jarring note. In Act II Scene 4 Ross arrived, looking suitably sodden, in sounds of pouring rain. It was all very effective until the sound effect was cut abruptly, instead of faded, during the subsequent dialogue.
WLT’s staging of Visiting Mr Green was faithful to the playwright’s intentions capturing the emotional elements well and steeping the audience in concern for the two characters. Congratulations on providing yet another wonderful evening of absorbing theatre.