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Laugh Track

Green Is Sitcom Sweet and Just as Predictable

The Odd Couple: Stan Weiman (left) and Kyle Prue in Everyman's Visiting Mr. Green.

By Jack Purdy | Posted 5/16/2001

Visiting Mr. Green

Jeff Baron

Only rabid homophobes and anti-Semites could hate Visiting Mr. Green, the cuddly little puppy of a play that concludes the season for Everyman Theatre. But not hating isn't the same thing as loving, or even liking. While Jeff Baron's two-character play, directed by Vincent Lancisi, is extremely well crafted, it's solid the way a good episode of Frasier is solid--only not nearly so sophisticated. It moves from beat to beat with the sure, predictable rhythm of any generic sitcom--including the act break that posits the major problem that will be wrapped up in the closing minutes. Only here it takes about an hour to wrap up, as even more problems present themselves.

The protagonists even meet cute, when 30-year-old American Express exec Ross Gardiner (Kyle Prue) nearly runs down 86-year-old widower Mr. Green (Stan Weiman), who has absent-mindedly stepped out into New York traffic. A creative judge finds Ross guilty of reckless driving and sentences him to do community service by visiting the cantankerous Mr. Green once a week for six months. (This sounds, by the way, much like the faux pilot episode of Seinfeld, in which a miscreant is sentenced to be Jerry's butler.) The two men really want nothing to do with one another, but slowly hearts warm, caring sets in, and if you're not thinking of the ditty "People," then Baron's script hasn't done its job.

The two men grow closer as--wouldn't you know it--we find out Ross never knew his grandparents, making Mr. Green the perfect surrogate grandpa. And Mr. Green eventually finds out Ross is, to his surprise, Jewish, although he doesn't keep kosher or do all those other things Mr. Green thinks a real Jew should do. Ross, of course, has an even bigger secret he's keeping from Mr. Green, and it's a secret you'll guess immediately when Mr. Green says, "What?! You live alone? Why don't you find a nice girl?" Ross' confession about why he doesn't want a nice girl provides the act break and drives a wedge in the carefully built affection between this odd couple.

Baron unrolls more secrets in the second act, all aimed at proving gays and Jews have so much in common that it really is a small world after all. In the tradition of Will & Grace, Ross Gardiner is the gay male anyone would want in his or her family--Harvard grad, big job, no effeminate mannerisms, and no sex life. He's still effectively in the closet, even while proclaiming his sexual preference to the befuddled Mr. Green. Prue displays a deft comic touch and makes Ross lovable, Lord knows, but the character he's playing has no edges at all.

Weiman gets all the big laughs, and earns them, as the retired dry cleaner whose crusty exterior hides a crusty interior, which nonetheless softens big time by the time Ross is through with him. Granted, most of the play's laughs come from lines that aren't actually funny. For instance, after turning down food Ross has brought, saying he's not hungry, Mr. Green changes his mind on learning the soup is kosher, saying, "What?! You want I should waste good food?" It gets a big laugh, but it's due to Weiman's timing and a delivery, which make Jackie Mason sound like Charlton Heston.

A great play Visiting Mr. Green isn't. But if you like safe and sweet theater, go. It couldn't hurt. And call your mother when you get home.

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