Chasing the Blues Away

Wallach has found an able new costar in David Alan Basche. Standing in Mr. Green's incredibly littered apartment and using his handkerchief to pick up objects, Basche's Ross perfectly conveys the annoyance of having his busy life disrupted by a messy old man who, on top of everything else, has the bad grace to live in a fourth-floor walkup. Slowly, Basche replaces self-involvement with concern, as Ross looks beyond the dust to notice Mr. Green's empty refrigerator, disconnected phone, ignored mail, and unlocked door. To his credit, Basche copes remarkably well with all of Baron's scene-ending "gotchas," which unveil hidden areas of Ross's life. Adroitly incorporating these disclosures into his character's personality, Basche turns them into an explanation of Ross's compassion. The maudlin script has an unhappy Ross -- ill at ease with his way of life and estranged from his family -- finding a substitute grandfather in Mr. Green. Avoiding cheap sentiment, Ross offers a fellow human being the acceptance he himself has been denied, and in the process he makes the play's ending ring a little truer.

Much of the credit for turning Visiting Mr. Green into more than just an acting master class goes to actor-turned-director Lonny Price. Undistracted by the barrage of plot twists thrown his way, he centers the production on the evolving friendship between the two characters. In a scene toward the end of the play, Mr. Green is so upset by startling news he received a few days earlier that he is too dazed to recognize Ross. The overly dramatic scene is totally out of place, and Price deals with it effectively by giving it a nightmarish quality.

Designer Loren Sherman's faded-wallpaper set strewn with cantilevered books, newspaper stacks, and a half-century's worth of mementos beautifully evokes the old man's world. By creating a nondescript wardrobe for a socially insecure Ross and comfortable-yet-presentable clothes for Mr. Green, costume designer Ellis Tillman adds texture to the production; additionally, Phil Monat's lighting design nicely imparts mood. However, sound designer Steve Shapiro's electronic interscene music, perfect for the final round of a game show but ineffective in establishing dramatic continuity, accomplishes little more than discouraging patrons from talking.

Although Visiting Mr. Green has already been optioned for a possible New York production, the Coconut Grove Playhouse's staging marks only its second mounting (it premiered at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in the summer of 1996). I wouldn't advise any Broadway angels to put their money down until the script undergoes serious surgery. Note to prospective play doctors: After narrowing the focus, work on the names -- Ross Gardiner helps Mr. Green blossom?! The script's future may be open-ended, but Eli Wallach's stay at the Grove is not; don't wait for the next rewrite to visit Mr. Green. As the play's two characters learn, life is too short not to extend a little forgiveness, especially if it brings you together with people who give you joy.

Visiting Mr. Green.
Written by Jeff Baron; directed by Lonny Price; with Eli Wallach and David Alan Basche. Through March 30. For information call 442-4000 or see "Calendar Listings.

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