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29 May 2012

Why Visiting Mr. Green?

Why Visiting Mr. Green?

If I had to grandly declare a theme for our 2011-2012 season, it might be “How we, as a society, treat ‘difference.’”  In Avenue Q, a motley assortment of puppets accept one another and work, in their own small ways, to make the world a better place.  In Beau Jest, Jewish parents struggle to accept that their daughter may not choose to marry within the faith.  In Tommy, a young man struggles with a burden that makes him close himself off to the world, and the world reacts in a variety of ways.  In the Laramie Project docu-dramas, issues of tolerance are viewed through many lenses, and reactions to these views are explored, dissected and pondered.

On the surface, Visiting Mr. Green doesn’t really fit in with this theme; it’s an odd-couple comedy about a crotchety old man and a young, upwardly mobile man caught in the corporate gerbil wheel.  But boiling underneath the light-hearted one-liners are themes of persecution, group identity and what one generation can expect or demand from another generation.  Mr. Green and Ross have nothing in common.  Yet they have everything in common.  It’s all in how you look at things.  Both have allowed difference to stand in the way of living and loving.  And both need to find a way to come to terms with that.

From the first line of the play, Ross and Mr. Green confront their difference (that’s the seed of the comedy), but as the play progresses, the characters embark on a journey leading them to confront their sameness.  Suddenly we’re in a deep, heart-wrenching drama.  They are both Jews, but that is not what makes them the same.  In fact, they seem to occupy polar opposite ends of the Jewish spectrum.  As Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard has written, “Jewish identity is made up of choices. We pick, consciously or otherwise, from a sort of identity menu that offers us options for behaviors that we understand as ‘Jewish’ because we see them as ‘Jewish things to do’ or as ‘done in a Jewish way.’”  So Ross and Mr. Green are both Jews, but their shared Judaism doesn’t really share anything.  At all.

And that’s a very potent metaphor for the larger theme of the play; we are the same, yet we are different, yet we are the same. 

Although the characters are Jewish, the core learning in this play is that people are the same everywhere. Everyone knows someone like Mr. Green, and everyone knows someone like Ross. Their specific characteristics make the story interesting, but their human-ness and their individual struggles are universal.

We all face challenges.  You may face the same challenges I face but for different reasons. You may face different challenges than I face but for the same reason.  But we all face challenges.

Tolerance comes from knowing that. 

Acceptance comes from understanding that.

Visiting Mr. Green is a blueprint of how we can move from hatred to dislike, to tolerance, to acceptance and, in the process, learn not only how to heal ourselves but also to mend the lives of those around us. 

Krista Lang Blackwood
Director of Cultural Arts
Jewish Community Center of Kansas City