The first thing that attracted me to Visiting Mr. Green was the fact that it stars Theodore Bikel. The name may not be instantly recognizable to everyone but this octogenarian has had one of the most interesting careers and has acted alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
Since making his film debut in 1951's The African Queen, Bikel has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including I Want To Live (with Susan Hayward), My Fair Lady (with Audrey Hepburn) and The Defiant Ones, for which he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. On stage, Bikel appeared in London's West End with Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire and on Broadway as Captain von Trapp in the original production of The Sound Of Music, with Mary Martin. Perhaps most notably, since 1967, Bikel has played the role of Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof more than any other actor. More than 2000 times, in fact!
So you'd think it might be daunting for a younger actor to appear opposite an acting powerhouse like Bikel but Aidan deSalaiz definitely holds his own on stage in Visiting Mr. Green. In fact, although I realize there have been over 300 productions worldwide of this particular play, I couldn't imagine another actor in either role. Bikel and deSalaiz are both an absolute delight in this charming, witty, touching comedy by playwright Jeff Baron. And Jen Shuber has done a wonderful job of directing this production for the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company.
Closeted gay executive, Ross Gardiner (deSalaiz) receives a sentence of community service in the form of weekly visits to Mr. Green (Bikel) after nearly running him over while driving recklessly. Green, a widower who is estranged from his family, isn't too pleased when Ross shows up at his door. What ensues is two strangers getting to know each other and learning a bit about each other's perspectives, which in turn helps them to deal with the problems and people in their own lives.
By the end of the play, Ross may not have won his own father's approval but seems truly accepted for who he is by Mr. Green. The hug that Mr. Green ultimately gives Ross is one that many grown gay men never receive from their own fathers. It's a hug that says, "I love you, son. Just the way you are."
Visiting Mr. Green runs until February 18th at the Jane Mallet Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre. Tickets online at hgjewishtheatre.com or by phone at 416 366-7723.
For the chance to win a pair of tickets to Visiting Mr. Green on Saturday February 11th at 8pm, just follow Gay Theatre Toronto on Twitter or "like" us on Facebook. (Contest closes February 8th at midnight.)