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This moving play will resonate with Jewish audiences

  • VisitingMrGreen2
Visiting Mr Green is one of those plays that will remain with you long after you’ve left the theatre because it touches the soul.
by PETER FELDMAN | May 24, 2018

This multi award-winning work, adroitly directed by Alan Swerdlow, reflects deeply on so many aspects of life that one cannot be immune to its message. It is as relevant today as it was when it was first written in the 1990s by American playwright Jeff Baron.

Its theme has a powerful Jewish connection, shining a light on history, old age, the nature of human understanding and the capacity for tolerance and forgiveness. It’s a very human play and will certainly resonate with Jewish audiences as it explores facets of Russian ancestry, the Holocaust and the Orthodox Jewish view on homosexuality.

The lead character is a cantankerous old man, Mr Green (Michael Richard), who lives alone with his memories in an apartment in New York. His beloved wife, Yetta, has recently passed on after 49 years of marriage, and Mr Green attests to the fact that “there was not one argument” throughout that time. Mr Green is battling to become independent, but is not succeeding.

Enter Ross Gardiner (Roberto Pombo), a young man who is landed with the unenviable task of visiting Mr Green once a week for six months. This is the community service that he has been ordered to do after being found guilty of reckless driving. He almost knocked Mr Green down in a busy street – and spending time with him now is his “punishment”. Ross maintains Mr Green was not looking where he was going – but that’s a story for another time.

Meanwhile, the reluctant Ross and a stubborn, narrow-minded Mr Green lock horns as an uneasy relationship begins to ferment between these two individuals.

The give-and-take between the two men is beautifully rendered through meaningful dialogue and sensitive interpretations, and their performances light up the stage. In addition, the Jewish penchant for answering a question with a question is skilfully utilised in Baron’s well-crafted work.

The significance of maintaining family ties is neatly woven into the narrative, and it has a universal ring. The play also hints at the contrast between the traditional Eastern European Jew and the young secular Jew.

Both South African actors play brilliantly off each other and Richard, who is one of the country’s most revered actors, imbues his character with enormous depth and understanding. He slips effortless into the cadence of the dialogue, emphasising the man’s Russian roots.

Pombo, as Ross, is also superb and there are moments of genuine empathy for a character stoically facing his own demons.

Denis Hutchinson’s stage design of a Manhattan apartment is effective, and the sound effects department contributes to capturing a specific era with advertising soundbytes.

Swerdlow is perceptive in his approach to the play’s context, and together with the actors, creates a memorable and entertaining night at the theatre.

  • Visiting Mr Green is on at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square until June 9.

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