Staging relatable characters : Jeff Baron’s play Visiting Mr Green comes to India
The comedy-drama, which has more than 500 productions in 24 different languages, is considered Baron’s most popular work
Visiting Mr Green, a play by American writer and director Jeff Baron, which debuted 22-years-ago, in New York City, USA, starring actor Eli Wallach, recently opened in Mumbai, at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). This comedy-drama, which has more than 500 productions in 24 different languages, is considered Baron’s most popular work. “Based on the way it has resonated around the world, the play’s appeal seems to be universal,” says Baron.
India was the 50th country for the new production of Visiting Mr Green, which starred MK Raina as Mr Green and Aakash Prabhakar as Ross Gardiner. An unusual aspect of the play, Baron shares, was that rehearsals began using Skype for the director and the actors, who live in New York, New Delhi and Mumbai. For Baron, “it felt like a miracle”, that they were able to put the play together within a short span of time. He says, “We worked remotely without physically meeting each other. We felt like we were old friends and thankfully, we were able to be efficient.”
The play revolves around the life of a recently widowed 86-year-old man, who nearly gets run over by a car, and then, has to deal with the weekly court-ordered visits by the young corporate executive who was driving. A clash of cultures makes for a gripping drama as the men force each other to examine their own lives and beliefs. They confront their differences about religion, sexuality, and family.
Although the play is set in New York, the city is mentioned just once in the play. Baron explains, “It felt a little bit like it was set here (in India) because the actors were speaking in their normal voices, like how Indian men would. From my American perspective, it felt like a hybrid. It also felt like a real collaboration between Indian artistes and an American writer-director.”
Mr Green is a Jewish man who according to Baron is “very difficult” and he wasn’t sure if MK Raina would be able to fit the part. “He is such a good man in real life, I thought he was incapable of being this difficult. But, he is such a good actor, he was able to be even more difficult than I dreamed of,” Baron quips.
Over the past few years, several Indian film directors and theatre producers wanted to buy the rights to Visiting Mr Green, with the intention of rewriting the play and setting it in India. But Baron believes the play needed a certain authenticity, even though turning down a financial offer is taking a “big risk”. He says, “These offers don’t come along everyday. I believe that you could make a good film adapting this play in an Indian context. Maybe, some day, that will happen. But for now, I really wanted the first exposure to Mr Green in India to be the original story. It has been translated very often but we never changed the setting or the text.”
A Hindi translation of the play is what lies ahead for this production. “We are still in talks about that. We’re also making plans to take it to other cities across India. We don’t have dates yet, but we’re working on it,” Baron says.