Jewish Repertory Theatre’s 15th season, aptly named A Sentimental Journey, begins next week with a flashback to its first season. “Visiting Mr. Green”, written by corporate executive-turned writer Jeff Baron, was part of JRT’s first season, and it’s back in this season’s line up, with Saul Elkin reprising the role of Mr. Green. Thinking back on his first time in the role, Elkin reflects, “I think I was much more taken with the comedic side of Mr. Green himself. “This time around however I am much more moved and engaged by the ‘reality’ of the story: an elderly widower, lonely and alone and caught up in the bitterness that comes from his own Jewish orthodoxy,” he says.
It’s this wistful, thoughtful quality that has makes “Visiting Mr. Green” endure. It’s been produced hundreds of times in more than 47 countries since it was written 20 years ago. “I think the reason “Visiting Mr. Green” has traveled so far and lasted so long is that it’s a good story, with characters you care about, including some characters you get to know, but never see,” Baron says.
“Visiting Mr. Green” is a two-hander: Mr. Green has an unlikely meeting with a younger man, portrayed this time around by Nick Stevens. They’re not friends, they’re not family, but somehow they connect. With light funny moments, tension, surprise, and finally acceptance, they learn about each other and themselves through the prism of shared experience.
It’s a very human story, Elkin says, “between a feisty senior citizen and a young man that begins being very contentious and evolves into a warm and loving relationship.”
Baron’s perspective is similar. “Beyond that,” he says, “since it’s about families, and what we do when close relatives are different from what we hoped they’d be. It’s a situation everyone knows and wrestles with.”
At the heart of this story is the grappling with the oft-taboo topic of sexuality, how it’s understood (or not), and how generations deal with new norms and values. For Baron, this meant reaching back two generations, to his grandmother. “Before I started writing, I spoke at length to quite a few men who shared various aspects of Mr. Green’s history. I always do that kind of research, because I want my characters to be as realistic as possible,” Baron says. He drew on his grandmother’s language, viewpoints, and somewhat isolated world as inspiration for Mr. Green himself.
Elkin connects to this generational push-pull. He says, “The world has certainly changed but old attitudes and values have not completely disappeared…yet. In addition to the strength of the story and the telling quality of the play, I think it raises issues that continue to be relevant.”
Elkin credits director Steve Vaughan for his perspective on the production, on “emphasizing the tensions that are at the heart of the play,” he says, maybe with a bit of modern Chekhov influence, too. “I still think there is lots of funny stuff, but there is also a very human and touching story, Elkin concludes.
Visiting Mr. Green opens at the Jewish Repertory Theatre on October 19 and runs until November i2. Learn more about the season and purchase tickets here.
Promotional consideration paid for by the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo.