Culture on the Couch

Visiting Mr. Green, presented by the Ensemble Theatre Company. At the Ensemble Theatre, Saturday, November 25. Shows through December 17.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Green1.jpgHow fitting that our persistently Freudian culture should produce its own theatrical genre, the “transference drama.” The story is always the same: An intergenerational odd couple, thrown together by chance, falls into a non-sexual love that recalls for each of them their families of origin. Face-saving lies are told and blushing revelations are made until old conflicts emerge, and both characters get a second chance to take care of unfinished business. Freud perceived transference as necessary in a successful analysis, but in a staged fiction, where the people concerned are not engaged in psychotherapy, transference becomes something quite different — a kind of reverse group psychoanalysis, in which the action onstage draws out the audience’s collective memories and buried feelings. Jeff Baron’s Visiting Mr. Green follows the transference plot to perfection, and brings some powerful impulses to light.

The right director makes all the difference with a play like this one, and Jonathan Fox is clearly the right director. Working from strong memories of earlier generations in his own Jewish-American family, Fox steers the production away from stereotype and toward archetype. Ben Hammer as Mr. Green and Aaron Serotsky as Ross Gardiner are both wonderful at delivering the script’s deep cultural associations without mannerism or cliché. Hammer has extraordinary timing and physical control, displaying a Broadway veteran’s “in the bones” knowledge of what will communicate the essence of a moment. Serotsky, who has an equally skillful but understandably more contemporary style, carries the burden of the action and does a marvelous, seemingly effortless job of keeping things tracking.

Transference dramas are exercises in comparison; one person’s conflict is judged in relation to another’s equally poignant dilemma. In this play, it’s the younger man, Ross, who goes first, allowing Mr. Green to see just how much a father’s refusal to accept can hurt. When Mr. Green takes his turn, the ensuing revelation also involves parental acceptance, but it runs in an opposite — yet complementary — direction. The play’s ending is theatrically satisfying, and its psychological effects are surely varied. I’d say more, but, as therapists everywhere so often intone, “That’s all we have time for today.”

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