Theater Review: 'Visiting Mr. Green' at Colony Theatre
If there are any doubts that "Visiting Mr. Green" is a critic-proof property, the effective revival at the Colony Theatre should settle them. Jeff Baron's much-produced 1996 two-hander about an accidental inter-generational alliance enjoys an adept staging that treats the old-school calculations with unexpectedly involving ease.
Since its Berkshire Theatre Festival premiere starring Eli Wallach, "Visiting Mr. Green" has been produced in more than 30 countries and been translated into 22 languages. In 2007, author Baron revised it for British stalwart Warren Mitchell, the version seen here. This proves a mercy, since Baron's trims excise ballast from a sentimentally predisposed narrative to emphasize the dual character studies at its core.
Recently widowed octogenarian Mr. Green (the aptly snappish Jack Axelrod), though still an archetypal Upper West Side Jewish crank, now reads more seriocomically and universally pre-senile. Ross Gardiner (an unaffected Antonie Knoppers), the 29-year-old executive whose reckless driving has resulted in weekly community service visits, registers less as a stereotypical yuppie than as the sort of deceptively straight-arrow climber who occupies the cubicle next to yours.
Each has an easily foreseeable secret, but it's their passage to affectionate surrogacy that has always driven the show, and does so again. Credit director David Rose, who, apart from some overly poised scene endings, maintains a quiet naturalism that keeps the laughs coming and the heart-tugs honest.
As Mr. Green, Axelrod carries tremulous vulnerability beneath a range of responses, from antagonism and condescension to disgust, distress and acceptance. Axelrod's deadpan howlers are sometimes more finessed than necessary, but there's no missing their hilarity, or the slack fear in his reversals, or the poignancy of his acquiescence.
Knoppers more than matches this formidable turn, understating Ross' petulant impatience and bemusement. The gambit permits his eventual exposed emotions to emerge wholly felt, not just enacted, his climactic eruption most affecting.
The design scheme supports Rose's uncluttered approach. David Potts' scenic design has suitably neglected detail that dovetails with A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's realistic costumes, Jeremy Pivnick's concise lighting and Cricket S. Myers' expert sound.
Such smoothly cohesive work largely counters the prefabricated premise. Some elements of kosher-versus-modern Jewish conflict are less than credible, and the Act 2 Holocaust argument remains Baron's shakiest ploy.
Yet the populist thrust echoes countless crowd-pleasing hits, from "I'm Not Rappaport" to "Trying." Indeed, that 2007 Colony smash is a clear company precedent for this latest attraction. Audiences who flocked to it will likely be "Visiting Mr. Green" in equal measure.
-- David C. Nichols
"Visiting Mr. Green," Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Also, 3 p.m. Saturday and Sept. 12, 8 p.m. Sept. 17 and 24. Ends Sept. 27. $37-$42. (818) 558-7000. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
Photo: Antonie Knoppers, left, and Jack Axelrod. Credit: Michael Lamont.