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Mendocino Theatre Company Presents: Visiting Mr. Green

It was the opening night of a new season for Mendocino Theatre Company’s Visiting Mr. Green, by playwright Jeff Baron, directed by Ricci Dedola, the first theatre gathering since the Cemetery Club Gala in March 2020. That play, as beautiful a work as it was, barely saw the light of the stage, closed down because of the Pandemic. In that review I said, and I repeat for the sake of reminding —

In a time when the public is told that we should not touch — not a handshake, a hug or a kiss, Mendocino Theatre Company brings us into an intimate conversation amongst three female friends, about what it is to touch and be touched, the unwritten codes of relationship, marriage, life and death. 

Over two years later we meet again. Fully masked, proof of vaccination is shown before entering the sacred realm of our Mendocino Theatre Company. We enter the ante-chamber, there greeted by beloved friends and tribe. This time, heads turned to the side, hugs and handshakes are exchanged. Eyes gaze for a moment. Tears rise up in gratitude. We have returned.

Visiting Mr. Green has similar themes to Cemetery Club — relationship and the ever vital so-much-more. Perhaps all drama, life itself, basically shares this theme. While Cemetery Club is about intimate female relations, Mr Green begins with an accidental — perhaps God ordained it? — meeting between two men, the elder Mr. Green, and Ross, a young man who is forced to do community service by the court. And thus the weekly visits to Mr. Green, an unwilling, grumpy old man, begins. 

Kosher meals brought by the younger to the elder begins to break down the old man’s resistance to having a stranger in my (his) house. Ross’s direct and considerate approach to the elder’s resistance ultimately breaks down the conversations into greater intimacy, revealing “secrets” on both of their parts. Ross and Mr. Green share the Jewish religion, albeit from unique perspectives. Much to the elder’s consternation, Ross gets into Mr. Green’s business, his mail, his past, his present; all lending greatly to the fact, and to the funny, in this articulate yet down-to-earth script. 

Their secrets reveal confounding aspects of how inner self and the soul interacts with outer self and the world. The reason for secrecy is the meat of the play. Revealing would spoil. Society, along with religious precepts and long-held societal and family beliefs, all too often dictate what we do not say and what we do not do. Pretense takes the place of honesty; and honesty is often concealed by unwilling vulnerability. These unconventional and court-appointed confrontations reveal more and more of these vulnerabilities, taking Mr. Green, Ross and the audience, deeper into the heart and mind of the matter, and deeper into the issues that humanity faces.

Bob, Cohen, Veteran MTC actor, director, gives us a convincing Mr. Green, subtle and real in the changes that occur within the character’s portrayal. MTC theatre-goers have come to expect that level of engagement from Bob. He does not disappoint. The character of Mr. Green underlines how elders generally like things to stay the same; change comes hard. Bob Cohan, in his role, gives us that notion in spades; along with some good laughs. 

Gus Mayeno, acting since a youngster in school plays and MTC programs for youth, is nonetheless a newcomer to the professional stage. His years of practice paid off; not a nuance was missed in the portrayal of Russ Gardiner. His character offers a clear and thorough storyline of the difficult issues in this character’s life; sadly representing so many young people in today’s world.

Hmmm, we have a Mr. Green and a Gardiner. I cannot assume anything but purpose. For sure, Ross was care-fully tending the garden of Mr. Green. I cannot say more. Curious? Attend the play for the full story.

Over the years MTC’s stage has shown us sets that add an almost-secret physical language to the presentation. In Visiting Mr. Green, we are once again treated to the skills of set designers, Diane Larson and Dale Cohn. Enter the front door! There are so many touches that speak to the heart of the matter — a sacrosanct bouquet of dead flowers, newspapers strewn about, and lots of twosomes — two sets of dishes, two chairs, two men. Also set in intriguing twin-ness, two identical doors placed next to each other. Hidden within, a toilet and the bedroom, places of secrecy. 

Director, Ricci Dedola, has taken her own sweet and perceptive sensibility’s into the construction and staging of this script, bringing together many of MTC’s skilled and devoted hands. And hearts. Ricci’s love for theatre threads the needle for our visit to Mr. Green.

Stage Manager, Patricia Price, is a treasure. After the long absence, headphones on and at the ready, she warmly greeted all. Patricia has become a strong and devoted MTC presence in whom many a directer relies; and in which, the success of many a play lies.

Pamela Allen, MTC’S Producing Director since 2015, is moving out-of-state, retiring from MTC. Pamela, with a wave of her own offbeat elegance, has done a fabulous and beautiful job bringing together an extended family of devoted theatre goers, and offering timely, sometimes provocative plays that are meaningful for our times. Pamela Allen will be greatly missed. 

In the final analysis, the controversial subject and sub-themes of the script reach for oneness out of duality, successfully bringing together opposing viewpoints by two men, into workable and loving solutions. I cannot help but mention that women, though near central to the play, are not seen; and yet are mysteriously and importantly present. 

I encourage you all to visit Mr. Green. 

Visiting Mr. Green plays weekends through May 29th.

Tickets and information — mendocinotheatre.org; or phone 707-937-4477.

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