‘Mr. Green’ a touching generational clash

David Howard’s brows furrowed. His eyes looked pensive and agitated from a long life and too many recent troubles. To his right, a young man stood in the living room pleading with him to keep himself well.

Then suddenly, as if turning off a switch, both men crack a smile and laugh like brothers.

Such is the transition of going from rehearsal to interview mode.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Howard was preparing for the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s production of “Visiting Mr. Green,” which opens at 8 p.m. Friday in the Historic Asolo Theater.

In a tribute to the theater’s 50th anniversary season, artistic director Michael Donald Edwards has brought back this two-man show by Jeff Baron that focuses on the relationship of two generations clashing, yet sharing more in common than they realize.

“Visiting Mr. Green” was first performed at the Asolo 10 years ago. It was the first time Howard and director Howard J. Millman worked on the piece together. The two have worked together in Asolo Repertory shows for about 20 years and have spent another 13 years working side by side in other venues. Since their first collaboration on “Visiting Mr. Green,” they have produced the show three other times; their roles never changing. And the young man mentioned earlier — actor Kraig Swartz — has performed the show with Howard and Millman three times.

Performing it again is like reconnecting with family.

“It’s a reunion,” Howard said during a break on his first day of rehearsals. “It is very exciting to be doing this again. It’s like new. It’s like a new play in many ways. It’s very fitting for the 50th year of the Asolo to have it here.”

Set in New York, the 1996 comic drama tells the story of Mr. Green’s experience with a successful young man named Ross. They meet under unfortunate circumstances — Ross nearly hits the elderly widower Mr. Green with his car and is convicted of reckless driving. As part of his sentence, he is ordered to spend six months visiting Mr. Green. Green isn’t wild about the idea and neither is Ross. As a relationship develops between them, problems come to the forefront and secrets are exposed.

“They are very alone,” said Howard, who last appeared at the Asolo two seasons ago in the popular hit “Nobody Don’t Like Yogi.” “(They are) very much in need of each other and don’t know it.”

“Visiting Mr. Green” has been performed in 33 countries, capturing the hearts of audiences everywhere with the love/hate relationship of these two characters. Cast members said that’s where the universal draw of this show lies.

The bickering, the resentment, laughter and commonality Mr. Green and Ross share are relatable. They are things that families — no matter their background — share.

All of it is quite familiar to Swartz.

“It sounds like Christmas at my house,” said the actor, who has been in past Asolo productions of “Fully Committed” and “Syncopation.”

Swartz, comfortable in Ross’ shoes, said there are things that still pose a challenge for him in this play. Not laughing at Howard’s witty execution of the lighter moments is one of them.

Camaraderie is a strong suit among Howard, Swartz and Millman.

“We have a tremendous respect for each other’s talent,” said Millman.

“Working together and with the company, there’s a respect. We tend to work with each other very well.”

Since the cast has performed the show before, the challenge is to make it fresh again.

That task won’t be too hard for Millman, who said he’s discovered something new each time he directs this show.

“It’s a very unique, interesting play,” he said. “We’re having a great time with the play.”

As the small group stepped back into rehearsal mode, we asked if they had any plans on performing the play again after the Asolo run.

Possibly, they said. And if so, there should be lyrics and music next time around, Howard and Swartz joked.

“We could call it “Green! — The Musical,” Swartz said, laughing.

January Holmes, features writer can be reached at 745-7057.

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