by Jeff Baron
Directed by Howard J. Millman
Starring David Howard & Kraig Swartz
Asolo Repertory Theatre at Historic Asolo Theatre
Ringling Museum, Sarasota, 941-351-8000 or 800-361-8388
January 30 through March 1, 2009

Reviewed by Marie J. Kilker


Like many another modern American drama, Visiting Mr. Green is about a father-son relationship, though a surrogate one, in the larger context of the two men’s need for family and familial love. Religious beliefs and social conformity present the most potent obstacles to their fulfillment. Working these out starts after a judge orders Ross (Kraig Swartz, epitomizing a successful young NYC businessman) to make up for grazing with his car a Mr. Green. Ross must visit weekly to help the cantankerous 86-year-old, who insists he needs none.


A virtual hermit since Yetta, his wife of 69 years, died, Mr. Green lives amid old papers, mail, and a general mess in a dingy flat neighboring a cheap hotel. Despite his attempt to dismiss Ross, orders from the judge prevail. And a good thing too, because not only is Mr. Green surviving on little but tea and crackers.  He has also fallen and ended up sleeping in place just before Ross returns. It’s the kosher soup he brings that establishes their affinity: both are Jews. While Mr. Green is strictly Orthodox, however, Ross has been mainly secularist. Their weekly encounters reveal how their beliefs affect their attitudes toward their families, each other, life itself. 


The sticking point mutually and in Ross’ interaction with his high-society parents is that he’s gay. They don’t accept gays, except as jokes or freaks. Mr. Green, who’s baffled by homosexuality in someone like Ross, believes it’s “not what God wants.” When he thinks it may be Ross’ choice, he angers at the same know-it-all, law-breaking action taken by his “late” daughter Rachel.  In marrying a Gentile, she “died” to Mr. Green and Yetta, who sat shiva for her. Some deep discussions, not the least of which involve ironic prejudice, are in store! As Mr. Green becomes more and more attached to Ross, a combination of Ross’ persistence, a revelation about Yetta, and a mental aberration bring about a change in the elder man.  In turn, after a sickening incident with his parents, Ross finds him a fine object for friendly, even filial, devotion. Tolerance gives way to understanding and to redemptive love.


Owing to author Jeff Baron’s ways with words and snappy dialogue, Visiting Mr. Green invests most serious points his play makes with subtle to laugh-out-loud humor. Mr. Green gets off most of the one-liners, sometimes one-“worders”, and no one could say them better than David S. Howard. No stranger to playing old curmudgeons, he yet invests each one--as he’s done at Asolo from being the stubborn Italian Stone Carver to the impatient Judge Biddle of Trying--with a distinctive character and manner. A consummate actor, Howard as Mr. Green changes beautifully and lets appealing Kraig Swartz pace himself perfectly along with him. Under Howard Millman’s well-practiced direction, what a ride!


Set: Jeffrey W. Dean; Costumes: Catherine King; Lighting (crucially effective): Joseph P. Oshry; Sound: Matthew Parker; Stage Manager: Sarah Gleissner. Time: 1 hr., 55 mins. w/15 mins. intermission. 

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