A young businessman is forced to assist an elderly Jewish man once a week for six months after nearly hitting him with his car. What begins as an unwelcome punishment soon evolves into a warm friendship as each helps the other to escape from a prison of his own making. This is Visiting Mr. Green and it is currently playing at the Lofte Community Theatre.
Jeff Baron’s script is a feast for character actors. There are a lot of rich, chewy scenes for actors to gnaw on as well as oodles of character development and all wrapped in a slice of life package. The construction of the script is remarkable. Initial scenes are short due to the two men wishing to spend as little time together as possible. As their friendship develops and grows, the scenes lengthen. When their relationship hits the skids, the scenes begin to shrink again. It’s also a touching tale of two people trying to come to grips with a world in which they don’t seem to fit.
Kevin Colbert provides an effective piece of direction. He gives the scenes plenty of time to breathe and utilizes the energies of his two thespians well. The more keyed up Ross Gardiner constantly moves around and performs little actions to burn off his excess energy while the more laconic and elderly Mr. Green is a bit more economical with his movements. This utilization of energy leads to some good staging as the two actors use the entire apartment which keeps this purely dialogue driven from drifting into static. Colbert has also guided his actors to a pair of very stellar, human performances.
Ross Mumford is very charming and likable as Ross Gardiner. That likability is key to his performance as Mumford wisely skips the obvious choice of being a jerk at the top of the show. He’s basically a good guy, who is wound a little tight and unhappy about his community service. This makes his opening up to Mr. Green believable when their relationship blossoms into a true friendship. Gardiner hides a heavy secret and that secret might lead a lot of actors to the lazy choice of playing him angry, but Mumford constantly picks better alternatives. He gets frustrated. He gets indignant. He gets sad. When anger is used, it’s brief and appropriate. Mumford does need to be aware of his body as he upstaged himself on a few occasions and needs to cheat out on some of his conversations with Mr. Green.
Bill Bossman gives an exceptional performance as Mr. Green. I loved his use of body language. At the start of the show, Mr. Green is sickly and malnourished and his movements reflect that as his steps are plodding and weak. As he begins to eat more regularly, thanks to Ross, he gets some pep in his step and starts moving a bit more easily, but still in the style of an octogenarian. Bossman puts some great crust on the grieving widower who simply wants to be left alone until he learns that Ross is Jewish and then you can see and hear his interest piquing which gets the ball rolling on their friendship. Bossman well essays Green’s unyielding beliefs and attitudes and is very convincing when he starts to let those walls crumble as those beliefs and attitudes have caused the fractures in his life instead of healing them.
Kevin Colbert’s apartment is well suited to Mr. Green’s life. It’s simple, but comfortable. It’s even homey after Ross cleans it up and you can definitely see the touch of Green’s late wife after the place has been tidied. The set is boosted by the properties of Melinda Mead and Sheila Hansen with books, dishes, knickknacks, and a very convincing mess with newspapers strewn about the place at the top of the show. Nick Haussler further adds to the feeling of a low rent apartment with the squawking erupting from the kitchen faucet. Janet Sorensen’s costumes suit the characters’ characters with the simple dress shirt, tan pants, and sweater of Mr. Green and Gardiner’s business attire.
It’s a sweet show with a lot of heart and Visiting Mr. Green has proved to be another feather in the cap of the Lofte.
Visiting Mr. Green plays at Lofte Community Theatre through May 16. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org or by calling the box office at 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.