Frail Mitchell holds on to his charisma
VISITING MR GREEN Trafalgar Studios, London SW1
THE LAST time Warren Mitchell was on the West End stage he played Solomon, the 89-year-old furniture dealer in Arthur Miller’s The Price.
This time he plays another Jewish New York octogenarian. In Jeff Baron’s gentle two-hander, Mitchell is Mr Green, a lonely widower who waits for death in his grubby — though kosher — apartment on New York’s Upper West Side.
Death came pretty close a while back when he was nearly knocked down while crossing the road. Baron’s play begins with the arrival of young executive Ross (Gideon Turner), the speeding driver who has been sentenced to six months community service for which he has to visit the old man once a week.
Over this period, mutual suspicion turns into a predictably tender relationship. Baron’s play has a couple of reveals but no surprises. Its lesson is hardly new and comes when Ross challenges Green’s homophobia — the point being that the old can learn as much from the young as the young can from the old. Still, Baron writes with wit and his play, best seen as a charming whimsy, is laced with a good dose of New York Jewish humour.
The real story of Patrick Garland’s production is Mitchell’s performance. There are shades of his award-winning Solomon, but much more conspicuous are the effects of the stroke the actor — now 82 — suffered while playing that part.
Well supported by Turner (sometimes physically), Mitchell’s Green is a role that can be largely delivered while seated. When he moves across the stage, it is a painfully slow shuffle. And although the booming voice of Alf Garnett is absent, most of the comic timing, and all the charisma remains. ( Tel: 0870 060 6632)
THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISCARIOT
Almeida Theatre, London N1
STEPHEN ADLY Guirgis is a New York writer whose track record is more Hell’s Kitchen than hell.
No surprise, then, that although his trial play, which tests the guilt of Judas Iscariot, takes place in downtown Purgatory, in Rupert Goold’s exhilarating Headlong production, the place looks a lot like seedy, modern-day New York.
Corey Johnson’s underworld-weary Judge Littlefield rules over the proceedings contested by the kind of advocates hired from a low-rent Bronx law outfit.
Arguing for Iscariot, played powerfully by Joseph Mawle with fevered selfdestructiveness, is Susan Lynch’s ballsy broad Fabiana.
She is up against God’s representative — Mark Lockyer’s hilariously word-spitting, Arab émigré Yusef El-Fayoumy (currently residing in hell due to a paperwork mix-up and the Americanisation of the afterlife).
The play’s funny joke is that biblical witnesses are reincarnated as foul-mouthed streetwise hustlers. Its serious theme is the fallibility of judgement — not just God’s but everyone’s.
So when the Jewish witness Caiaphas is made to account for betraying Jesus, he counters that it is not he who needs forgiving but the New Testament scribes whose “lies and exaggerations” led to 2,000 years of persecution.
The great and the good of biblical and modern history are taken down a notch or 10.
Yusef challenges Freud’s (Josh Cohen) testimony because the father of modern psychology is an unreli- able coke-head. Fabiana gives Mother Theresa (Dona Croll) a going-over for opposing Vatican reforms condemning antisemitism.
Satan (a chilling Douglas Henshall) and Pontius Pilate (Ron Cephas Jones) also have their say. But what makes this play fly is Adly Guirgis’s hard-ass dialogue that respects its subject but leaves nothing sacred. ( Tel: 020 7359 4404)
CONTAINS VIOLENCE Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
TWO KINDS of gap feature during this chilly open air evening.
The first is the considerable distance between the action, which takes place in office windows, and the audience, who sit on the Lyric’s roof terrace and are equipped with binoculars and headphones.
David Rosenberg’s play has been touted as a thriller akin to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. In one office building a man sits working at his desk. Occasionally he is interrupted by abusive messages. They could be from the woman in the adjacent block.
A narrator warns of murder should they meet. Inevitably, they do. But before then, a second male worker makes a pass at the woman with the aid of a slide show presentation. And the first male worker strips to his underpants before being assaulted.
Technically the show results in a mind-expanding sensation that brings distant characters so close you can almost feel — as well as hear — their breath.
But whereas with his theatre collective Shunt, Rosenberg successfully sidesteps conventional storytelling, here his script is almost entirely lacking in character development and tension. Which all leads us to the second kind of gap — the yawning chasm between brilliant concept and disappointing execution. ( Tel: 0871 22 117 29)