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A CurtainUp Review
I'm Not Rappaport
The old people -- they didn't just stay to spoil your party
--- Nat, defending his right to live and do as he wishes rather than to be sent to "the home of the forgettable".
Judd Hirsh as Nat  and Ben Vereen as Midge
Judd Hirsh as Nat and Ben Vereen as Midge
(Photo: Carol Rosegg
Herb Gardner's 1986 buddy comedy about two old geezers who meet regularly on a Central Park bench takes its title from a famous vaudeville routine in which the joke hinges on a straight man declaring "I'm Not Rappaport." The Rappaport routine is actually played out several times during the play which is currently being revived at the Booth with Judd Hirsch reprising his Tony-winning role of the crusty curmudgeon, Nat, and dance man Ben Vereen making his acting debut as the half-blind, building superintendent Midge. Even without the variation of a knock-knock joke, I'm Not Rappaort is basically one long vaudeville routine.

There is a plot of sorts that arcs around the threats to Nat and Midge's park bench meetings: Daughter Clara (Mimi Lieber) wants Nat to either live with her in Great Neck, move into a senior residence, or show up regularly at his neighborhood senior center (Nat's idea of "Exile to Siberia, Devil's Island and Kindergarten"); Midge is about to be dispossessed from his job and basement apartment by the head of the building's co-op committee (Anthony Arkin). There's even a subplot of sorts revolving around the dangerous elements common to Central Park during the dangerous 1980s which introduces a young hood (Steven Boyer) who hustles the two old men for protection money, and a cowboy hatted drug dealer (Jeb Brown) who threatens a young artist (Tanya Clarke) who owes him money.

Despite the serious and occasionally eloquent subtext about society's treatment of the indigent elderly, the emphasis is on the comic interplay between Hirsch and Vereen. Hirsch, who is, if anything, even better than in the original, is the first and foremost reason to see this revival. Like Murray Banks, the eccentric dropout from A Thousand Clowns (which was revived last year, also opening during the summer--Our Review), Hirsch's Nat gets the most quotable lines, and lands each one with slam-bang gusto. Vereen makes a fine sidekick. Given the overall craftsmanship of their performances it's not worth quibbling about the tendency of both actors to go a bit overboard on the senior citizen tremors of hands and lips.

Director Daniel Sullivan, now as in the 1986 production he also directed, gives the the two leads free reign to wrest every possible laugh from their grumpy old men roles. In the supporting roles Mimi Lieber plays the daughter determined to keep her father safe if not happy with a nice balance of love and exasperation, at one point grudgingly playing the straightman for her father's I'm Not Rappaport routine. Anthony Arkin is a good enough comedian to keep the co-op committee president from being too much of a sitcom chracters. But try as they might, Tanya Clarke as the innocent looking art student with a dark history and Steven Boyer and Jeb Brown as the two thugs, can't lift the subplot beyond contrivance.

Tony Walton, who designed the original Rappaport has once again outdone himself to recreate a two-level corner of Central Park, subtly lit by Pat Collins, another Rappaport veteran. Theresa Snider-Stein, a new addition to this design team, has provided just the right slightly rumpled layers of vests and jackets and hats for Nat and Midge.

Above all this is a case of watching two dynamic actors light up the stage with their perfectly timed comic interchanges. While you may enter the Booth wishing someone had put on a fresh new play geared to more cutting edge tastes, this crusty duo is more than likely to win you over by the time you leave.

Written by Herb Gardner
Directed by Daniel Sullivan;
Cast: Judd Hirsch (Nat), Ben Vereen (Midge), Anthony Arkin (Danforth), Tanya Clarke (Laurie), Steven Boyer (Gilley), Mimi Lieber (Clara) and Jeb Brown (the Cowboy).
Set Design: Tony Walton; associate set design by Michael Anania
Costume Design: Teresa Snider-Stein
Lighting Design: Pat Collins
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Hair and make-up design: Michael Laudati
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Booth Theater, 222 West 45th St. (Broadway/8th Av), 212/239 - 6200
From 7/12/02;opening 7/25/02. Tue - Sat 8pm, Wed-Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm--$20-$75.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on July 30th performance.
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