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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Two Lively Visits to Manhattan Apartments
on Jersey Stages

Also see Bob's review of Sight Unseen

Visiting Mr. Green in Red Bank is Well Worth the Trip

Visiting Mr. Green
Ben Hammer and Aaron Serotsky
Visiting Mr. Green has the delightful habit of sneaking up on you. During the course of its performance, it shifts repeatedly into higher gear, so that by the time the second act arrives, it is all geared up to sweep audiences completely into its thrall. There is a level of intelligence and compassionate understanding here which exceeds what we expect to find in the category of sentimental comedy entertainments to which Mr. Green clearly belongs.

The set-up is contrived and conventional. Eighty-six-year-old Green has given up on life since the recent death of his wife Yetta. Green does not eat properly, if at all, and his unkempt, uncleaned apartment has fallen into total disarray. Enter the not quite 30-year-old Ross Gardiner. It seems that Ross, as a result of being charged with reckless driving after almost running down Green, has been ordered by the court to perform community service by visiting Green once a week. Of course, Ross will restore Green’s will to live in time for the final curtain. However, the journey there is filled with a number of surprises and a moving and balanced exploration of personal issues that are relevant in today’s world.

On his first two visits, Ross is met by Green with hostile indifference. On the second visit, however, the kosher Green wolfs down the prepared food which Ross has brought him from the Fine and Schapiro delicatessen. Green does tell Ross that he and his Yetta were childless. During Ross’ third and fourth visits, Green warms up a little toward him. When he learns that Ross is Jewish, Green feels a kinship and begins to discuss his life and customs with Ross. It seems that we are in for a mild, little ethnic comedy.

Having learned that Ross is single and living alone, Green “hocks” him about going out and meeting the right girl. When Green remains insistent, Ross informs him that he is a homosexual. Curtain.

Right from the beginning, the second act takes off in high gear. The stakes become very high for both Green and Ross. Inadvertently, Green reveals that he has been harboring a terrible, life-altering secret. Each man becomes the other’s lifeline. Members of the audience for whom the issues cut close to the bone could be heard audibly weeping. In the tradition of the Yiddish theatre, the mix of comedy and personal tragedy make for a savory stew.

The importance of family is the theme here. To say more would diminish the considerable impact of the play. Suffice it to say that there is humanity and understanding here. Playwright Jeff Baron clearly has a point of view, but he is anything but dismissive of deeply felt attitudes that do not concur with his.

Broadway veteran Ben Hammer is delightful and powerful as Mr. Green. Hammer has all the right moves and intonations to bring Mr. Green to life. Hammer sends a chill through our bones when Green reveals his most heartfelt and bitter feelings. It is good to see Visiting Mr. Green while we still have an actor who has such a strong feel for Green. (Green was played by Eli Wallach during the play’s year long 1997-98 run.)

Aaron Serotsky is a perfect match for Hammer. Initially, Serotsky nicely and naturally underplays Ross. Not only does this allow the crusty Hammer the attention which his role demands, but it also allows Serotsky to ratchet up the intensity without theatrics when his situation comes to the forefront.

Director Jonathan Fox (clearly a quick learner) has directed flawlessly. Fox must be credited with the matching set of fine, nicely contrasted performances. His choice of music (most often it sounds like chamber music; later in the first act with the same instrumentation, it most appropriately sounds like klez) to bridge the scenes is excellent, and he has used the stage space perfectly to create intimacy and keep this two hander close to the audience.

Neil Prince’s large set feels realistic and takes good advantage of the available space upstage space to add realistic depth to the set, as well as to depict the building in which the apartment is located. Costume designer Deborah J. Caney has designed any number of appropriate costumes for Green and Ross. Green’s sweaters appear hand knitted and make us think that his devoted Yetta likely knitted them for him.

With Visiting Mr. Green Jeff Baron has written a popular entertainment with depth and intelligence. The Two River Theatre company has in turn provided his play with a first-class production.

Visiting Mr. Green will continue performances through November 20, 2005 (Wed. 1 p.m.; Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m.; Sat & Sun. 3 p.m.) at the Main Stage of the Two River Theatre Company, 21 Bridge Avenue, Red Bank, NJ 07701. Box office: 732-345-1400; online: www.trtc.org.

Visiting Mr. Green by Jeff Baron; directed by Jonathan Fox

Cast
Mr. Green…………...Ben Hammer
Ross Gardiner…Aaron Serotsky

Photo: T. Charles Erickson


Match is Better West of the Hudson

Match
Clark Carmichael and Carl N. Wallnau
Some plays just don’t belong on Broadway. When produced there in 2004 with an entertaining, but so far over the top performance by Frank Langella that it could well have torn the fabric of the play, Match was such a play. This contrived, innocuous little comedic melodrama is simply too devoid of substance and believability to resonate in a full sized Broadway theatre or justify the expense of the better part of $100. However, in the most intimate and well acted production which Match is receiving at the hands of the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre, it makes for a pleasant enough entertainment.

Sixty-two-year-old choreographer Tobi Powell is now teaching at Julliard and living alone in an apartment at the upper tip of Manhattan. Tobi has agreed to allow Lisa Davis, accompanied by her husband Mike, to come in from Seattle to interview Tobi ostensively for her thesis on the future of classic dance in America. Unsurprisingly, this is a ruse. There is little mystery in the warmed over plot, but, as reviews of the Broadway production withheld the true reason for their visit, I will respect conventional wisdom and not go any further other than to say that the question regarding Tobi which Lisa and Mike are seeking to resolve is of the “did he or didn’t he?”, “is he or isn’t he?” variety.

What counts here is the witty repartee of the flamboyantly gay Tobi (actually, for plot purposes, Tobi is bi-sexual ... uh, oh, a clue) and quality of the performance of that role. Frank Langella’s very entertaining, way over the top Tobi was delightful and provided the only juice that the Broadway production could muster. Carl N. Wallnau takes the flamboyance down a couple of pegs, adding some verisimilitude. Not being a show all by itself, Wallnau’s amusing performance brings more balance to the ensemble. If memory serves, some of Tobi’s excessive bits and dialogue have been cut, to the betterment of the play’s flow.

Laura Ekstrand is a warming presence as Lisa. Her smile can steal your heart away. Okay, her Lisa is probably too good to be true. However, this is not really any problem at all in a lightweight entertainment of this sort. Clark Carmichael is fine as the one dimensional, angry Mike.

Dreamcatcher has flexibility in its seating and playing space. For Match, two banks of seats face each other about 40 feet apart with a small stage area between them. It enables director Robert Pridham to make us feel that we are sharing Tobi’s living room with him and his guests. Yet, the playing area never feels constricted. Pridham moves the play along quickly, not giving one the time to question preposterous aspects of the plot.

The scenic design of Jessica Parks is mostly made up of furniture which is flamboyantly seedy. The appropriate costumes of Cherie Cunningham are highlighted by Tobi’s eye-catching robe.

Oh, there is a last minute contrived and improbable trick which had the audience really buzzing after the play’s conclusion. It’s that kind of an evening. It is resistible, but if you go with flow, you are likely to have a good time.

Match continues performances (Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through 11/20/05 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre in the Baird Center, 5 Meade Street, South Orange, NJ 07079. Box office: 973-378-7754, ext.2228; online: www.dreamwatcherrep.org.

Match by Stephen Belber; directed by Robert Pridham

Cast
Tobi Powell…………….CARL N. WALLNAU
Mike Davis…………..CLARK CARMICHAEL
Lisa Davis………………LAURA EKSTRAND


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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