Reviewed by George Basler
A slightly rundown New York City apartment is a strange place to find forgiveness and compassion, but that’s what happens in Visiting Mr. Green, which opened this weekend(Feb. 12-14) at the KNOW Theatre in downtown Binghamton.
While the two-character play may be a bit glib and sentimental, it certainly provides its share of humor and pathos, both of which are on display in KNOW’s production, directed by Tim Gleason, the theater’s artistic director.
The play is basically a showcase for the actors who inhabit the roles of a crusty, old Jew and the young corporate executive who is forced to visit him. The very real pleasure of the KNOW production is how effectively Bernie Sheredy and Josh Sedelmeyer do this as they give first-rate performances.
The play, first produced in Massachusetts in 1996, went on to play in New York for a year with Eli Wallach in the title role. Since then, it’s been staged all over the world, in a number of different languages, so it’s obviously a crowd-pleaser despite the sniping of some critics who find it dated and predictable.
To be honest, the play by Jeff Baron follows the predictable formula of throwing two mismatched characters together in a situation where initial dislike and bickering gives way to friendship and affection.
The strength of Baron’s effort is that he injects some unexpected touches and real feelings into this standard format.
The play begins with Ross Gardiner, played by Sedelmeyer, being required by court order to pay weekly visits to Mr. Green after he nearly ran over the elderly man with his car.
Green, played by Sheredy, is alone and miserable following the death of his wife of 59 years. He initially greets Ross with undisguised suspicion and dislike. But the two characters gradually warm to each other and begin disclosing hidden secrets.
While the formula is time-worn, Visiting Mr. Green takes some unexpected turns that gives it a sense of freshness. One is the presentation of Mr. Green, not as a loveable old geezer, but as an inflexible, unforgiving man who has isolated himself because of these feelings.
Ross, meanwhile, is a gay man so deep in the closest that he also has isolated himself, mostly out of sense of fear and guilt.
As Mr. Green, Sheredy is simply superb. His weary gait and stooped posture capture the old man’s physical pain. More tellingly, his haunted expressions and subtle gestures convey the character’s emotional pain and heartache. Sheredy never loses our sympathy even at the character’s worst moments.
Sedelmeyer, meanwhile, skillfully plays a character whose façade of success hides a person who is not comfortable in his own skin. A high point is a riveting monologue in the second act in which Ross unburdens himself about his relationship with his family.
While the character may raise the hackles of some gay rights militants (things have changed since 1996, after all), Sedelmeyer gives Ross emotional resonance as he grapples with his own demons.
Another element of the KNOW production that is worthy of recognition is the effective incidental music by Santino DeAngelo.
DeAngelo’s compositions are absolutely essential because of the play’s structure. Specifically, the action takes place in a series of vignettes, with slight pauses between each vignette to show the passage of time. Without DeAngelo’s music, the emotional momentum could easily be lost. But the restrained piano accompaniment maintains the mood of the play.
The play’s ending is a bit trite. It wraps up the action in a tidy little ball that seems simplistic. Still, the audience is left with a warm glow, and what’s wrong with that. Especially touching is the gesture of openness, well-played by Sheredy, which closes the play.
Visiting Mr. Green is a worthwhile effort with a strong message about the need for forgiveness and the pain of intolerance, and Sheredy and Sedelmeyer’s acting make the evening well worthwhile. The performance I attended ended with a standing ovation for the two actors. They deserved it.
IF YOU GO: Visiting Mr. Green will be performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 28 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Ticket prices are $20 ($18 for seniors,$15 for students). Go online to www.knowtheatre.org, or call 607-724-4341. There will be a “Pay-What-You-Can-Night” performance at 8 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 18).