Performed in 46 countries, in 23 languages, with over 500 productions and countless awards to its credit, Visiting Mr Green is a stage play by US author Jeff Baron.
This year, it celebrates its 20th anniversary since it opened at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, with Eli Wallach in the lead role.
A new production of this well-loved and inspirational play premiered last week at the Auto & General Theatre on the Square, presented by Daphne Kuhn under the direction of Alan Swerdlow.
The production is designed by award-winner Denis Hutchinson and features a star cast - with Michael Richard in the title role as Mr Green and Roberto Pombo as Ross.
The play is about 86-year-old widower Mr Green, who is almost hit by a car driven by young corporate executive Ross Gardiner. Found guilty of reckless driving, Ross is ordered to spend the next six months making weekly visits to Mr Green.
What starts off as a comedy about two people who resent being in the same room together, develops into a drama, as family secrets are revealed and old wounds are opened.
According to Swerdlow, working on Visiting Mr Green has been enjoyable, not only because he’s worked with the Theatre on the Square for years on different plays, but also because this is such a good play.
“I was approached by Daphne and asked if I would direct it. I’ve directed quite a few plays for the theatre over the years and I feel very much part of the Theatre on the Square community. I was thrilled when I was approached because it’s a very fine piece of writing, and it’s lovely to do a really solid human interest drama from time to time,” he said.
The play, at its crux, goes to the centre of the human experience, and it’s the very thing about it that’s captured Swerdlow’s attention as far as themes are concerned.
“The play is about two people who learn to recognise the humanity in each other. Initially, it starts off as a clash of generations, viewpoints and attitudes.
“Initially, both characters are unlikeable. They are selfish, caught up in their own worlds.
They deliberately shut themselves off from the world at large, and it’s fascinating to watch how these people slowly start to understand each other, move towards each other, and begin to relate to each other as human beings, instead of labels.
There’s an emotional soul connection that happens by the end.
“But it almost doesn’t happen, because the two of them are so prickly, so feisty, that you’re not sure they will ever find common ground. And to watch that part develop has been absolutely fascinating. And then to watch my two actors, to see what they bring to it I mean, we all have different viewpoints, and the discussions have been intense and lengthy as we begin to understand these characters,” said Swerdlow.
He said working with Pombo and Richard had been fairly smooth sailing as they had all worked together before. So this has been a reunion of sorts.
“Fortunately I have worked with both of them before and they’ve worked together. In fact, when I directed The History Boys, both Michael and Roberto were in that. They already know and respect each other. So we were able to plunge right into it.
“It’s been a very relaxed process, there hasn’t been any trauma or anything like that,” he said.
As a director, the piece has allowed him to adapt his directing style to it, and the fact that he likes the piece has also worked in his favour. They did, however, elect to keep the play in period, so it is still set in New York.
By way of encouraging people to come watch the play, Swerdlow quotes Barney Simon.
“I am reminded of something the late, great Barney Simon used to say. He’d quote an old Hasidic legend, who said: ‘Why did God create man? Because he loves stories.’ I think people still love stories.
“They recognise themselves, they respond, they relate. And coming to the theatre, being part of the audience to experience the play, is the point.”
Visiting Mr Green is on at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton until June 10. Tickets at Computicket.