Laugh-out-loud funny one moment and tear provoking the next, Visiting Mr. Green is a study of our universal need for redemption and empathy. Arctic Playhouse’s production is an enchanting surprise.
Too often in attending the theater we stay to the safe bet, the known entity. When choosing what to attend we might say, “Oh, let’s see that one. It’s one of our favorites.” Or “Babe? Look, such and such theater is doing such and such play. Shall we go?” And why not? With little time and so much to do, we want to make the most of our leisure time. We’d prefer to depend on the comfort of the known entity than take a shot on the unknown. Some of us may have become accustomed to a guaranteed safe night of fun.
If this rings a bit true, I invite you to step out of your comfort zone and take a chance on Visiting Mr. Green, currently running through November 3 at The Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick. It’s a lovely bit of storytelling wherein all the elements — production, performance and direction — align beautifully.
Visiting Mr. Green stars Jeff Blanchette as Ross Gardiner, a fast-moving 29-year-old finance executive, and Terry Simpson as Mr. Green, an elderly retired dry cleaner and recent widower. The two are thrust together by a judge for weekly community service visits after Mr. Gardner nearly runs Mr. Green down with his car.
Reluctant though their visits may be, the two quickly find themselves enmeshed in each other’s lives, caring for one another. But more than that, this beautifully written and performed intergenerational relationship offers each man a chance to heal and find release from their ghost. It also offers the audience an opportunity to explore some complex themes through a surprisingly lighthearted lens.
Living room dramas, once intended to be cost-effective choices due to the single location set, have taken a bit of a back seat to the sparse nondescript suggestive stages of the contemporary theater. With a stunning set design by Arctic’s executive director, Jim Belanger, that austerity is not the case here. The rich and detailed design sets the perfect note for the production. Details like period faded wallpaper, vintage kitchen appliances and a rotary phone all immediately evoke an era gone by — an era in which Mr. Green is stuck.
The metaphor of this perfect visual backdrop is immediately apparent with Mr. Gardner’s entrance. Flip phone, slick suit and fancy shoes set him apart from this apartment lost in time. But slowly, as the plot progresses, we see how these colliding worlds help to form the characters, shape their relationship and ultimately, offer each of them redemption.
Director Sandy Cerel has a clear affection for the play and its characters. Her choices, streamlined and clever, truly let the story sing in what she describes as “…a rich and rewarding journey.” And how could it not be so with such talent and care from her cast?
Simpson has done a beautiful job of balancing the honor, conviction and sincerity of Mr. Green’s character with his compassion, fear and vulnerability, a depth of performance matched by his costar, Blanchette. Blanchette shows a great deal of skill in his ability to reveal layers of Ross Gardiner’s character to us one scene at a time. What initially seems like a one-dimensional, ’90s executive archetype slowly evolves to an equally tortured and complex character worthy of reflecting Mr. Green’s struggle back at him.
The evident care of purposeful decision-making on the part of the company was rewarded in the audience reaction. The almost two-hour production flew by with the only murmurs from the audience occurring during scene changes to assail their companions with praise for the show. Praise for the actors, praise for the sound design, praise for the evening.
The Arctic Playhouse is a hidden gem. Everyone involved is warm and professional. It is absolutely worth traveling from the far-reaching corners of Little Rhody and navigating the narrow streets of West Warwick. The parking is easy and sandwiched between a wing joint and Chinese restaurant; it’s a no brainer for a one-stop night full of entertainment.
If you’re looking to shake up date night or simply enjoy a beautiful piece of storytelling, booking tickets for Visiting Mr. Green will do the trick. It’s challenging, endearing and delightful.
Visiting Mr. Green runs at The Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick through Nov 3. Performances run Thursday, Friday & Saturday evening at 7:30pm, Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the arcticplayhouse.com or at the door.