Sat 20th October to Sat 27th October
Mr Green, an elderly, retired dry cleaner, wanders into New York traffic and is almost hit by a car driven by Ross Gardiner, a corporate executive. The young man is given a community service of helping the recent widower once a week for six months. What starts as a comedy about two men who do not want to be in the same room together becomes a gripping and moving drama as they get know about each other, come to care about each other, and open old wounds they've been nursing for years. Visiting Mr. Green has played in 37 countries, 22 languages and more than 300 separate productions over the last decade and has won numerous awards throughout the world.
“This is a stunning production in every sense. …….As Mr Green and Ross Gardiner the Criterion has cast two of its most experienced and outstanding actors in Keith Railton and Chris Firth. Both are superb. Keith captures so perfectly the frailty, the anger, the sadness and, yet, the innate humour present in Mr Green, whilst Chris is totally natural as Ross – a man with his own problems to resolve.”
Read the whole review here http://elephantjam.wordpress.com
Picture a grubby cluttered flat strewn with piles of unopened mail, newspapers, every edition of the Manhattan telephone directory from the last 10 years and a bouquet of dead flowers. There is a knock upon the door and the flat's occupant, a dishevelled 86 year old man, shuffles to answer it.
Outside is a young besuited executive who seems to think he has an appointment. But this is no do-gooder or salesman. The young man is here neither for business or pleasure. He was the driver of a car which nearly ran over Mr Green and has been forced to visit as part of a restorative justice programme. These two men will be thrown together in a series of often abrasive encounters which will have an impact on the direction of their future lives.
Visiting Mr Green by Jeff Baron is a two hander, superbly performed by Keith Railton and Chris Firth who maximised the strengths of the play and minimised it weaknesses. For this often witty and poignant play does have some major flaws. The opening with its two very short scenes does the actors no favours. They have very little to work with. The characters are still strangers to us and other than establishing a little about the near accident, that Mr Green lives alone, is widowed and Jewish, there is not a lot of meat. The play as a whole also comes close to being an issues piece. It deals with family, identity, prejudice, homosexuality and 'what it is to be Jewish'.
The strengths of the play are a strong and gripping narrative where in scene after scene new truths emerge and we look at the characters a little differently. Neither man is quite what he seems. At the beginning they seem to be polar opposites. Mr Green is acerbic, self-sufficient and set on a course of self-destruction while Ross is the image of corporate America - he even works for American Express. But as the play unfolds we see both men have developed a very hard shell to protect themselves from doubts and loneliness.
It would be so easy for Visiting Mr Green to be a sentimental piece but Annie Woodward's direction brings out a bitter-sweet quality and stops it being too 'American'. Keith Railton does a wonderful job of portraying the old man raging against the world, proud, defiant and lost. Chris Firth has a difficult job as his foil in the first half with long speeches where he tries to persuade the old man to clean up, to eat the Kosher soup from Fine and Shapiro and become less of a recluse. But in the second act his anger sparks and a picture of a very lost and distressed young man emerges. Far from being opposites, these two men are united in shared sense that their lives have not turned out as they might have done.
Visiting Mr Green is a story of loss and resilience, performed by two exceptionally strong actors. It is often moving and, as the two men clasp hands at the end of the play, you really can believe they have faced and overcome their demons.
I was so glad to catch the last night of this summer and winter affair because rarely have two actors worked so well together on the stage of the Criterion.
Chris Firth has really developed as a performer over the past 20 years and deserved to successfully audition for this critical part in the two-hander Visiting Mr Green, a play which on one hand has family values that might be 20 years out of date, on the other is still sharp as a pin for those of a more conservative disposition.
The Criterion's artistic director Keith Railton, who plays the title role, also had to audition for the part that could, of course, have been written for his stunning chameleon talents as an old man, an orthodox Jew, and closet comedian.
I'm still chuckling about the perfectly timed reference to the pair's mutual Russian ancestors in Pinsk....long gap....near Minsk, as the successful young banker from American Express builds an unlikely relationship with the cantankerous retired dry cleaner.
Both have to learn to deal with prejudice from different ends of the spectrum. But it's the bitter old man who really has to grow.
It's a conversational piece and the timing was so perfect that director Annie Woodward should also stand up and take a bow...and the music really added to the atmosphere.