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November 7, 2006

Theater Review - Sweet squabbling punctuates ‘Visiting Mr. Green’

Samer Yahyawi and Charlie Hunter: Photo by Darren McGee Samer Yahyawi as Ross and Charlie Hunter as Mr. Green in “Visiting Mr. Green.”“Visiting Mr. Green” has been translated into 22 languages and received Best Play awards in Israel, Greece, Turkey and Germany. Although playwright Jeff Baron is better known for his television and film scripts, “Visiting Mr. Green” does not suffer from cinematic staging. Mr. Green (Charlie Hunter) is an octogenarian living in a cluttered apartment in New York’s West Side. Ross Gardiner (Samer Yahyawi) almost ran him down with his car. As penance, he must visit him every Thursday for six months. Ross is a young corporate executive on his way up the ladder with no time to spare for these visits. Mr. Green doesn’t want a stranger intruding on his privacy and barging into his apartment (which he leaves unlocked). But the judge won’t budge — they must complete this “community service.”Slowly, the two begin to communicate and show affection for each other. Mr. Green is a widower and has retreated from the world. If not for Ross, he probably would just waste away in a slow suicide. Ross brings him chicken soup and reminds him that Jews aren’t allowed to commit suicide. The transitions between visits are represented by mournful Yiddish music. When the two blurt out their deepest secrets, their budding friendship is almost snuffed out. They continue to squabble and pick at each other’s emotional scabs, but it is not annoying as theatrical bickering so often is. Here, the quarrels are rather sweet and serve to bring the play to resolution.Hunter, who has appeared in the TV show “In the Heat of the Night,” is well paced as Mr. Green. Hunter is quite simply, a star. He doesn’t rush through his lines. His mannerisms and gestures are relevant to his character and not a distraction. He conveys much with a slight glance. His only gaffe was a mispronunciation of “Shabbos” (it’s SHA-bos, not Sha-BOOSE). Otherwise, Hunter is believable as a strictly observant Russian Jew.Yahyawi is memorable as the troubled Ross, pacing around like a trapped animal in the cluttered space, tidying up to make himself more at ease. Yahyawi appears in the film “Keep Your Distance,” and his play “The C.D.I.” recently debuted off-Broadway.John Campbell Finnegan and Mickey Ruby deserve special recognition for set design and props. Their attention to detail is fanatical. Mr. Green’s kitchen has a working antique fridge and stove. During intermission, I sneaked a peak at the letters that Mr. Green won’t open, and amazingly, they were addressed to his wife, Yetta. Talk about realism!