Front Row Center
By Michael Warren
Over the last few weeks I have seen two excellent performances at the Bravo! Theater. At the end of January there was a rerun of Visiting Mr. Green by Jeff Baron, a play which has had over 400 productions in 45 countries and has been translated into 23 languages. Eighty-six-year-old widower “Mr. Green” is almost hit by a car driven by young corporate executive “Ross Gardiner.” Found guilty of reckless driving, Ross is ordered to spend the next six months making weekly visits to Mr. Green. What starts off as a comedy about two people who resent being in the same room together develops into drama, as family secrets are revealed and old wounds are opened.
Roger Larson and Ken Yakiwchuk are both accomplished actors, and are totally believable as these two disparate characters. Larson’s performance as the grouchy old Mr. Green is extraordinary as he hobbles around the stage in carpet slippers, and berates Jehovah for the loss of his beloved wife. Later he also berates Ross for being gay, which is “against God’s law.” Yakiwchuk begins the play as an unwilling visitor, and gradually becomes a loving friend to this miserable old man. It’s a touching transformation, and I congratulate the director Jayme Littlejohn for giving this little play such a powerful emotional punch. This is what good acting is all about. I should also mention Stage Manager Diane Jones and Production Manager Kathleen Neal. Dana Douin designed the well-constructed set.
Speaking of good acting, this is what Roseann Wilshere teaches at her Actors Studio. Meeting weekly at Bravo! Theater, participants learn how to perform a scene in accordance with the principles set out in Michael Shurtleff’s book Audition. Finally they put on a show, eight scenes from various plays. I went to the show last week, and was impressed by the high standard of acting achieved by a group of so-called “beginners.” First we saw a moving little scene from The Gin Game, with Pam Pettus and Johan Dirkes as the old couple in a retirement home. Then Rosann Balbontin and Marie-Lyse Jacobs Mullen interpreted Miss Witherspoon by Christopher Durang, an entertaining spoof on reincarnation set in a sort of purgatory called the Bardo (a word taken from The Tibetan Book of the Dead). Next was a powerful scene from Account Balanced by Valerie Bunce, very well acted by Sharon Lowry and Linda Freeman. The last scene before Intermission was a crazy first-date interlude from Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. Dennis McCary and Judy Long hammed it up in great style.
After Intermission we had a strong political piece from Top Girls by Caryl Churchill – Judy McKinnon and Chris L’Ecluse were entirely believable as sisters at two ends of the debate in Margaret Thatcher’s divided universe. Then we saw two brief interrogation scenes from my play The Perfect Alibi. The Inspector was played by Pierre Blackburn in the first, and by Norb Michel in the second scene. Dennis McCary and Rosann Balbontin were good in supporting roles. I should also mention Johan Dirkes for being a convincing dead body. The evening ended with a chilling scene from Honor Among Thieves by Elliott Hayes, excellently performed by Pam Pettus and Chris L’Ecluse. Overall, a great group performance and a tribute to the effectiveness of Roseann Wilshere’s coaching skills.