Apr 3, 2017
by Harry Duke, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association
There’s a nice, little show running in the 6th Street Playhouse Studio Theatre right now. You’ve probably never heard of it, though it’s been around a little over 20 years. In those twenty-plus years, it’s been translated into 23 languages and been produced all over the world to the tune of about 500 productions. Just this year, it’s played or is currently playing in such far-away places as Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, and Romania. Which brings us back to Railroad Square in Santa Rosa, California, where Visiting Mr. Green is running through April 2.
It’s a two-person show – part Odd Couple, partI’m Not Rappaport – set in the New York City apartment ofMr. Green (Al Kaplan), an elderly Jewish widower recovering from a recent close-call with a motor vehicle. His solitude is interrupted byRoss Gardiner (Kevin Kieta), the Wall Street-employed driver of the vehicle, who stops by to announce that he’ll be making weekly visits to assist Mr. Green as part of the community service portion of his sentence. Mr. Green doesn’t want him, and Gardiner would be more than happy to have the judge relieve him of the duty, but then there wouldn’t be a play, would there? Green and Gardiner go from butting heads, to grudging acceptance, to perhaps the formation of a real friendship when an issue is raised that changes everything. What started as a comedy of opposites takes a decidedly dramatic turn.
It works. Playwright Jeff Baron has taken a stock situation with stock characters and managed to make them feel fresh. It’s not the most well-written script and it has some elements that absolutely strain credulity (A present day, 29-year-old corporate executive that doesn’t carry a cell phone?) but my annoyance with those was overcome by the fine performances of the co-leads.
Director David L. Yen started on third base with the casting of Al Kaplan as Mr. Green. Kaplan has been knocking around Sonoma County stages for a bit doing yeoman’s work in supporting roles. Where did he get the chutzpah to take on the lead role of a loud, opinionated, demanding, set-in-his-ways senior citizen? (Full disclosure – I’ve worked with Al.) Kaplan was made for this role - which is more layered than I let on - and I’m not sure I can think of any other actor in the area who could do it as well. His consistent physical work with the character should also be noted.
The greater challenge for Yen must have been the casting of Gardiner, and Yen did well with his choice of Kevin Kieta. There’s a lot going on with Ross, and Kieta does a good balancing act throughout his character’s arc. Kaplan and Kieta work well together, and I completely bought into their characters and their relationship completely.
The scenic design by Sam Transleau does a pretty good job of recreating a New York City apartment, though there are a few anachronisms. I particularly like the sense of depth provided by a nicely designed window and backdrop. Sound designer Craig Miller nicely bridges the scenes with appropriate music that reinforces the cultural component of the show.
6th Street Playhouse’s Visiting Mr. Green is a small show with big aspirations. It packs a lot of humor and emotion into its 105 minutes, touching on such issues as family, responsibility, religious orthodoxy, acceptance, regret, the devastating consequences of one’s actions, atonement and forgiveness. These issues are universal, which may explain why this particular piece seems to be in constant play around the world.
Grounded in two fine, funny and heartfelt performances by its leads, Visiting Mr. Green kind of took me by surprise. Some of the issues presented hit close to home and I found myself a bit emotional by the end. That’s not an easy thing to admit, and while I see a lot of theatre, it doesn’t happen that often.
Nice work, gentlemen.