When a large portion of the city was giddy over Theodore Bikel starring in the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company's production of VISITING MR. GREEN, I was like "Who?" "Why are we excited about him?"
I meant to see what Wikipedia had to say about the guy but I plum forgot. So it was the definition of a pleasant surprise to watch the play and see what all the fuss was about. For those of you who still don't know who he is, Theodore Bikel is an 88-year-old man who has a WEALTH of theatre and film experience; with many years spent as Tevye, the protagonist in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (he played the role 2100x), but he also spent time being directed by Sir. Laurence Olivier, in the company of then-US Pres. Jimmy Carter, touring the world and winning multiple awards. Not to mention having a leading role in preserving and promoting Jewish Culture which is a feat in itself.
But I didn't know any of this when I was watching him play the central character in VISITING MR. GREEN. All I could see and hear was a man very much in command of his voice, his body and his technique. There's an x-factor that really fabulous performers have - something intangible that sets them apart from others - and Bikel has that oozing out of his pores, even at age 88. Mazel tov.
His talent had me believing that I was witnessing something special; unfortunately this etherial, special quality was limited to him. The play, while perhaps poignant at the time it was originally written, when homosexuality wasn't as accepted, seemed dated - particulary when characters kept having to use pay phones - I just can't believe that anyone doesn't have a cell phone anymore. Jeff Baron's script was lacklustre and cliche; filled will easy jokes that only Bikel could carry off, leaving the other actor sharing the stage, looking lesser than he probably is. Aidan deSalaiz co-starred with the masterclass that is Bikel, and next to this lifelong thespian, deSalaiz had a phoney gameshow-host'esque delivery that was over articulated and lacked range. It probably didn't help him that he was kept busy with pointless movements around the stage and by distracting stage business.
If you're looking to witness a piece of history while you can, then I suggest you check out VISITING MR. GREEN so you can see Theodore Bikel in action. Otherwise, it might not be the best use of your time.
VISITING MR. GREEN is playing now at the Jane Mallett Theatre (27 Front St. E.) until February 18, 2012. For tix visit here.