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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at theTrafalgar Studios 1

By Matt Wolf

  Warren Mitchell/PH: Nigel Norrington

The potentially overfamiliar arc of Jeff Baron's popular first play comes in a happy second place to an absolutely beautiful performance from the beloved English TV and stage personality, Warren Mitchell, in the title role as the New York Jewish curmudgeon, Mr. Green. On the West End for a relatively brief run following an international tour that saw Mitchell acting the same part in Australia opposite his real-life son, Baron's two-hander finds an unexpected spring in its predictable step courtesy Mitchell, whose performance is worth commemorating for its gait alone. A kind of walk/run shuffle/skip that seems entirely in character but also speaks to Mitchell's own diminished physical capabilities at age 82, the actor's stop/start stride is at once funny and moving and couldn't be better wedded to this particular role - an 86-year-old Manhattan widower whose lonely, angry life is changed at the hands of a younger gay Jew named Ross Gardiner (Gideon Turner), who, in turn, finds in this apparently cantankerous octogenarian a long-overdue sounding board for grievances that run very deep, indeed.

You simply know that the play's various short scenes, nine in all, will depend on a series of revelations, of which the most pronounced is the admission from the tall, preppy Gardiner that he is a feygele . (The programme for the show helpfully explains those Yiddish terms that a London audience might not know, like - wait for it - kosher: Off Broadway, where this play was first seen in 1997, was never like this.) Busily mourning his late wife, Mr. Green can't believe that the 29-year-old Gardiner won't want a spouse of his own, and Baron takes his play to its darkest realm in remarks made by Gardiner elaborating upon the young man's lengthy abstinence from physical contact of any kind: His fondness for running, one feels, allows a release for emotions that the aspirational Harvard grad has kept damagingly clamped down.

The successive encounters - some of them little more than vignettes - don't have a lot of shape to them, and one or two seem to dribble away before they've even started. And it's probably a mistake to indicate that the action is happening on the Upper West Side in the present: not even New York's newfound record for safety would keep too many senior citizens I know from ensuring that their front doors are locked, while the absence of a cell phone is, in the context of Baron's narrative, especially conspicuous. The events bringing the two together threaten a level of contrivance that in fact doesn't prevail elsewhere Gardiner, it seems, has nearly mown down Mr. Green in his car, as a result of which the younger man is forced once a week for six months to visit his elderly kinsman-to-be after work as part of a community service order. In the British variant on the same story, the two would end up clubbing one another to death I'm sure a happy, entirely realistic scenario exists somewhere in between.

All cavils fall away, however, faced with the honesty and naturalness of the acting, which extends to the appealing Turner, however shaky his American accent when it comes to the letter A. (His pronunciation of the word Nazi is especially odd.) Mitchell, in turn, offers a master class in sensitivity that never once spills into cuteness, the actor communicating a thinly veiled fury at the literal and metaphoric mess he has made of a life that has landed him on his own, for reasons having to do with fate on the one hand and his own stubbornness on the other. It's easy to think of this character as derived from some sort of Grumpy Old Man template, and I can only imagine the numerous cloying interpretations that surely have attended the play's extraordinary trajectory: more than 300 separate productions in 37 countries in 22 language


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