Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the March 6, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `I’m Not Rappaport’
In Herb Gardner’s consistently entertaining comedy
"I’m Not Rappaport," the joy of social rebellion, the riches
of non-conformist behavior and the general, but most genial, assault
on the establishment is wittily filtered through a pair of
habitues of Central Park. Although 17 years have passed since Judd
Hirsch first played the part of the formidably contentious Nat, a
role that won him a Tony Award, he is back in character and delivering
as fresh and as feisty a performance as one would want. Hirsch, who
won his second Tony for "Conversations With My Father" (also
by Gardner), returns to the Paper Mill where he recently scored in
"Art," in a role he played on Broadway and on the road.
Perhaps the bigger news is that Ben Vereen, who is playing the role
of Midge, Nat’s grouchy and perpetually duped foil, is a knockout,
in the role he played in 1989 in a production at San Francisco’s
on the Square. Together, under the vigorous direction of Daniel
Hirsch and Vereen are one helluva team. This co-production (a virtual
carbon copy of the original) between the Paper Mill Playhouse, Coconut
Grove Playhouse, and Ford’s Theater should receive a warm reception
on Broadway when it opens this spring at the Booth Theater (the same
theater it played in 1985).
The confrontational, autumnal milieu has been handsomely recreated
by set designer Michael Anania to include a stone bridge, leaf-strewn
paths, and the obligatory park bench, all atmospherically illuminated
by lighting designer Pat Collins’ day-into-night effects. But it
has the pleasure of Hirsch and Vereen’s sterling company.
As a courageous dreamer Cervantes would no doubt
Hirsch appears, this time around, even more demonstrably effective
as the habitual fabricator whose Quixotic fantasies have totally
for better or for worse, his daily life. "I do not tell lies.
I make alterations," he says to justify his resourceful
But Nat is no lunatic. He is a fighter who uses his keen mind to
the oppressed, the maligned, and especially his bench pal Midge
a despairing black apartment house superintendent.
"Stop playing 3-card Monte with my mind," says a defiantly
independent but vulnerable Midge, who, try as he does, cannot restrain
Nat from crusading for him when he is told he will be dismissed when
the apartment goes co-op. Nat, like the social upstart with communist
leanings he once was, cannot resist fighting for a cause.
Together, these two-sparring bespectacled elders refuse to be
by the inevitable intrusion of the head of the tenants committee
Arken), a mugger (Steven Boyer), a dope pusher (Jeb Brown), or even
Nat’s meddlesome daughter from Great Neck (Mimi Lieber). If the
of these two cataract-afflicted cronies to address the shadowy,
frightening world around them seems, at times, a little too flagrantly
joke-filled and fabricated, Hirsch’s ingenuous performance almost
convinced me he actually was "an escaped Cuban terrorist named
Hernando in deep cover, or better yet, a Hollywood mogul.
However unsteady on his feet, Vereen is right on the beat for a
rendition of "Alabamy Bound." Just as quick with a retort
to Hirsch’s smug marijuana puffing ("I was smokin’ dope while
you was still eatin’ matzo balls"), Midge, especially in Vereen’s
expressive hands (the same hands that conjured up the magic in
is no second banana to Hirsch’s formidable routines. The peasant-chic
attired (by costumer Teresa Snider-Stein) Lieber is excellent as Nat’s
oldest, middle-aged and wearily tolerant married daughter, the only
one of his adult children who still speaks to him. The strong
cast is instrumental in helping us feel the truth of a world that
Gardner has written about so wisely and wonderfully. Go, enjoy, and
don’t forget to bring along grandpa.
— Simon Saltzman
973-376-4343. $29 to $59. Show runs to March 24.
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