There is something to be treasured in watching Eli Wallach dip a shared tea bag into a cup, or stare at an unanswered ringing telephone and the unwelcome knock upon a door. His bewildered silence displays a half-century of theatrical precision and craftsmanship.

There is something to be treasured in watching Eli Wallach dip a shared tea bag into a cup, or stare at an unanswered ringing telephone and the unwelcome knock upon a door. His bewildered silence displays a half-century of theatrical precision and craftsmanship. For that reason, “Visiting Mr. Green,” a slight two-character comic-drama that walks familiar terrain to a predictable denouement, becomes endearing.

Mr. Green (Wallach) is an aged Jewish widower of four months who lives in a modest, unkempt apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. A judge has sentenced Ross Gardiner (David Alan Basche) to six months of community service for reckless driving after he knocked down Mr. Green at an intersection.

The octogenarian is reluctant to accept the young man’s pledge to clean the apartment and bring weekly deliveries of kosher food, but becomes more receptive when he learns that his benefactor is Jewish. Gradually they reveal their baggage and establish a bond, Green mourning the loss of his devoted wife and admitting to the existence of an estranged daughter who married a gentile. Ross, in a keenly structured scene, tells of a domineering father who refuses to accept his homosexuality.

Playwright Jeff Baron has fashioned a tidy piece for two actors, and Wallach deftly accents a tired old soul with sweet comic invention. Basche is a confident sparring partner, balancing exasperation with an earnest and caring heart.

Broadway and film composer David Shire has injected some plaintive musical themes that suggest Green’s Russian-Jewish roots, and Loren Sherman’s set fills the dusty apartment with an appropriate feeling of neglect. Director Lonny Price lends a playful touch.

Visiting Mr. Green

Union Square Theater, New York; 499 seats; $45 top

Production

An Arnold Mittelman presentation of a play in two acts by Jeff Baron. Directed by Lonny Price.

Creative

Set, Loren Sherman; costumes, Gail Brassard; lighting, Phil Monat; music, David Shire; sound, Aural Fixation; stage manager, Karen Moore. Opened Dec. 15, l997, at Union Square Theater. Reviewed Dec. 14. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Eli Wallach (Mr. Green), David Alan Basche (Ross Gardiner).
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