“I’m Not Rappaport”
By Dany Margolies/Associate Editor
There is a gracefulness and kindness in the Kentwood Players’ production of Herb Gardner’s “I’m Not Rappaport” that adds to the already hearty appeal of the play. Still, it is a comedy of the best kind — that which nears the truth.
Director Sheldon Metz and leads Scot Renfro and Alfonso Freeman unfold the bittersweet story tenderly, expressing the playwright’s apparent fondness for his aged characters.
Two 80-something men have met and bonded on a park bench in Central Park. Nat (Renfro) is a Jewish Communist, a radical still ready and able to fight for the underdog. Midge (Freeman) is a black man with an imperfect past and a seemingly hopeless future.
Nat has trouble speaking the truth about himself — at best, he embellishes on his life. He claims to have been a spy, he pretends to be an attorney known as The Cobra. The playwright smartly brings Nat’s daughter Clara (Linda Parke in a fine debut) into the play to establish the real facts of Nat’s background. In another fine touch, the director has Nat turn away from Midge and from the audience when he reveals the one absolute truth about himself. Nat is a man who can look us in the eye only when he is lying.
Renfro and Freeman play “age” with accuracy and softness. They walk with a shuffle but find energy to sing and dance to old tunes. Their hands rest gently when inert but find arthritic grips to hold a weapon when attacked by the young punks in the park.
Their octogenarian characters take tumbles for a variety of reasons — a slip, a mugging. They never ask for pity, and they rise with dignity to take on the fight again.
The title I’m Not Rappaport comes from the Vaudeville routine Nat has often re-enacted with his daughter and now wants to play with Midge. In a Vaudevillian way, it is about identity — how others see us and how we see ourselves.
Nat says in a monologue to the petulant younger generation, “You collect old furniture, old cars, old pictures, everything old but old people. Bad souvenirs, they talk too much. Even quiet, they tell you too much; they look like the future and you don’t want to know.”
Lawrence Smilgys, Bree Benton, David Parke Jr. and Paul Mayo round out the cast.
Although the action takes place entirely on two park benches in front of a substantial stone bridge, beautifully designed by Metz, it never seems stagnant.
Costumer Alison Mattiza dresses Clara in a wonderful outfit that mixes the character’s radical background with her present wife-of-a-radiologist; she also creates a delightful gangster look for Nat and Midge’s Act II appearances.
Sound design by Jamie Weintraub also enhances the production.
The two old friends sit under autumn leaves, which the playwright indicates should occasionally fall, perhaps as an additional memento mori.
“I’m Not Rappaport” plays Thursdays (except tonight), Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Feb. 19 at Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., 310.645.5156.