TORONTO — Legendary actor Theodore Bikel will grace the stage of the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company (HGJTC) once again, this time in the Toronto premiere of Jeff Baron’s Visiting Mr. Green, at the Jane Mallett Theatre, St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, starting Jan. 28.
In 2009, he starred in Sholom Aleichem: Laughter Through Tears, for which he won a 2010 Drama Desk Award for outstanding solo performance.
Visiting Mr. Green is one of the most-produced plays in the world, boasting more than 300 productions around the world, and it’s been translated into 22 languages. Jen Shuber directs this production.
“Eli Wallach did it off-Broadway and on tour,” says Bikel, who comes to the role of Mr. Green for the first time. “I’m drawn to the play, because it has an intimate setting and it’s not diffuse. It doesn’t go off in 20 different directions. It concentrates on the relationship between two human beings who start out quite disparate from each other to the extent that they have nothing in common and will find nothing in common. At the end of the play, you realize that each of them fulfils a need in the other.”
The younger man is forced by a court order to visit the older man as punishment because he almost hit the older man with his car.
“The old man was shaken up, but remembers very little of this accident. He wasn’t hospitalized or really hurt in a major way. The young man is ordered to come once a week and help, but the old man doesn’t want his help… His wife passed away recently and he’s a loner,” Bikel says.
The two-man play also stars actor Aidan deSalaiz, a veteran of the Stratford Festival. The two starred together in a musical version of the Ted Allen play Lies My Father Told Me at the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in Montreal last May.
It was no coincidence that they’re working together again, as Bikel strongly recommended deSalaiz for this production.
“He was magnificent in Lies My Father Told Me. He never left the stage throughout the play,” says Bikel. “He was present at all times, but almost disappeared into the scenery when he needed not to draw attention to the character. It was an extraordinary feat that he accomplished in that play.”
The California-based actor says that he hopes the audience gets not only what is obvious on the stage, but also the subtext of the characters.
“If you’re lucky enough, the audience gets it. As in life, what is actually said is only part of the story. In any conversation, we ask ourselves, ‘Why did this person say that in the manner in which they said it?’ Is there an agenda beyond what was actually expressed in words? If people watch a good film, it’s not what the characters say, but in their face, their eyes and the attitude. On stage, it’s a little more difficult to express. The characters eyes and expressions can’t really be seen beyond the second row of the audience. And yet, good theatre does precisely that.”
Bikel was nominated for an Academy Award for The Defiant Ones and for a Tony Award for originating the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, but he’s best known for playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, performing it more than 2,100 times on Broadway.
Bikel says he has worked more in Canada in the last two years than in the United States. He plans to bring the show to Montreal’s Segal Centre this summer, and he’s currently turning the play into a film. He was also in Montreal last summer with his folk group, Quartet Serendipity 4.
Visiting Mr. Green runs from Jan.28 to Feb. 18. For tickets, call 416-366-7723, or visit www.stlc.com. For more information, go to www.hgjewishtheatre.com
Bikel will also be appearing at a special “Broadway Shabbat”, a Kabbalat Shabbat service on Jan. 20, 6 p.m. at Temple Sinai, 210 Wilson Ave. Tickets are $90 and include dinner. Call 416-932-9995, ext. 221.