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THEATER REVIEW: “Visiting Mister Green” resonates with audiences

Elderly widower Mr. Green (Robert Grossman) shuffles slowly to the door of the apartment he shared for 59 years with his beloved Yetta, wondering who could possibly be knocking.

He is puzzled to see the 20-something Ross Gardiner (Craig de Lorenzo), who announces he has come to “help.”

Mr. Green doesn’t want help from this suit, a total stranger, especially when Ross mentions that he’s the one who almost ran Green down in the street. He asks Ross to leave and not return. But it seems the judge has sentenced Ross to community service, in this case to visit Mr. Green once a week for six months, so they are stuck with each other.

They’re off to a bad start, but Green softens a bit when Ross brings kosher soup – though Green’s idea of thanks is “What? I should let good food go to waste?” The thaw is complete when Ross lets slip that he, too, is Jewish.

That lasts until Ross reveals the unsurprising secret that he is a feygele (Yiddish for gay), triggering Green’s old-school (and Orthodox) prejudice.

Jeff Baron’s internationally popular two-hander “Visiting Mister Green” plays through March 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, with Christopher M. Williams directing.

The first act is reminiscent of “Trying,” but the second plays on themes of intolerance (as Green asserts that homosexuality is “dirty” and “wrong” and Ross equates his anti-gay bigotry with anti-Semitism), familial bonds (playwright Baron has another surprise up his sleeve, but I won’t disclose it here) and the universal experience of loneliness.

This is Grossman’s show. He can show more with a glance or a gesture than a playwright could do it pages of dialogue. His Green is irascible, difficult, funny, bright, but also obviously lonely and in need of help, whether or not he admits it.

Green is a man ruled by fear and hobbled by loss, but Grossman’s brilliant portrayal also betrays a dawning awareness that his life could have been richer and less lonely.

Vernon’s buttoned-down Ross is a good enough counterbalance, but he’s up against a master, and as my dad used to say about tennis, age and treachery will beat youth and skill any day of the week.

“Visiting Mr. Green” play has been translated into 22 languages, and there’s a reason it resonates with audiences around the world: There’s truth here, and we can all identify with these characters.

The details

“Visiting Mister Green” plays through March 18 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Suite D in Solana Beach.

Wednesday and Sunday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (858) 481-1055 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.