An 86-year-old widower wanders into a Manhattan street and is nearly run down by a car driven by a young business executive not paying attention. The young man is charged with reckless driving and is sentenced to community service - spending one night a week with the man he nearly ran down. It seems like a recipe for resentment and hostility. Instead, in "Visiting Mr. Green," at Off Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell through October 1, we get a satisfying evening of theater - how two lonely men, estranged from their families, find friendship and help each other.
The young man, Ross Gardiner (Nick Muni), while upset about his sentence, takes his newly imposed job seriously. Mr. Green (George Wolfgang), is difficult, stubborn, and sullen, but Ross persists. There are some delicious comic moments, such as when Ross tries to explain his job as an executive at American Express, to Mr. Green a retired dry cleaner. On the other side, Ross is equally puzzled when Mr. Green (who keeps strictly Kosher) tries to explain the necessity for his having four sets of dishes (and why glass dishes can be in any of the sets). As the two of them butt heads they find out more about themselves than they bargained for.
When Mr. Green finds out that Ross is Jewish he drops his guard and becomes more like a concerned grandparent. When he presses Ross as to why he doesn't have a girl, Ross admits that he is gay (which is also hard to get across to Mr. Green). By this point Ross becomes like a member of the family that Mr. Green lacks (so he says), with all the attendant frustrations and good moments. By the end of the play both characters are changed and start to reconcile with their own families.
The set - the interior of Mr. Green's apartment - speaks volumes about character of Mr. Green. From the top of the grimy refrigerator covered with stacks of neatly folded paper bags and a vase with a dead bunch of flowers, to the sink with the water hammer (that has been around for years), everything paints a picture of sadness and disconnectedness. This slowly lifts as Ross starts to clean things up.
The production - with direction and sets by Robert Thick, and costumes by Anne Raymond - moves along engagingly. Both lead actors are excellent and believable in their roles. According to his biography,George Wolfgang has been on a hiatus from acting for many years.Judging by his performance, he has not lost a step. Nick Muni is ayoung, college-aged actor with an impressive resume - and an impressive skill.
"Visiting Mr. Green" is the first play written by playwright Jeff Baron. Following a two-year run at the Union Square Theater (starring Eli Wallach), it has had over 200 other productions around the world. Although it concerns two New York Jews, its universality has made it very popular in Europe (where it has won a number of awards), and it has even been produced on television in Yugoslavia.
Off Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, through
Saturday, October 1. $23.75 to $25.25. 609-466-2766.