For a magnetic production that shows how opposites attract, repel, and attract again, then go see Jeff Baron’s Visiting Mr. Green, directed by Gigi Fusco Meese for the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre.
Touching without being maudlin, the script describes how a young man’s duty to an old man becomes a win-win situation for both parties concerned.
A judge sentences New Yorker Ross (Christopher Zenner), guilty of reckless driving, to attend to Mr. Green (Kenneth Bridges), his victim, once a week for 6 months.
At first they don’t relate.
They make an odd couple, oil and water intergenerational; one curmudgeonly like Walter Matthau, the other finicky like Jack Lemmon.
What they have in common is a Sad Sack life.
Even before the accident, Mr. Green is in bad shape. He has just lost his wife of almost 60 years, he’s poor, so he doesn’t eat so he’s not clear of mind; nor does he move well. He’s alone. He’s outlived family and friends. And his apartment’s a mess, though seven teapots, spouts-right, on top of a cabinet, were oddly phallic. He clings to his Orthodox Judaism because it’s all he has left.
Ross’ (Christopher Zenner) Tobey Maguire perkiness belies his sad state. At first he looks like he’s about to bounce off the wall. Oops, wrong script. Though a young and rising executive at American Express, his affluent family ostracizes him because he’s come out of the closet.
Meese deftly navigates through the story’s twists and turns so the production isn’t sappy. She set up the initial opposition with murderous aplomb. At first, at least, with these initial scenes, it was a comedy. Then the two men opened up to each other. They compared notes on intolerance (sexual preference, religious). Each time one faced a crisis the other was there. Rickety, crotchety, an emotional wreck. But there.
Bridges was great as the slob. Laughs and giggles. I could have watched him do the living room shuffle all night. Then, when he lets himself go, he became a slob with pathos and resonance. We feel for the guy. He disencumbers himself to an interloper who is not only Jewish, though non-observant, but also gay.
As Bridges got us deeper and deeper into the character he took us from closed door to open window. He was strong when Ross was weak. And vice versa. He got us wondering where he would take this disheveled though noble guy. Then comes the knockout revelation that he kept hidden from Ross – and us.
But Bridges wasn’t the only one who evolved. Ross was snappy at first, the perfect foil for Bridges’ bristliness. His transformation from aloof, duty-bound, better-things-to-do young man into a compassionate and caring human being was startling. He relaxed his manner, he softened his urban edges. He became a mensch.
Performances are Fri. & Sat., 8 PM, Sun., 2 PM. The show runs until May 26. Tickets are $20-22. The Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. For more information call 494-1014 or visit www.lbph.com.