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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