HOLLADAY — A play about two old guys sitting on park bench yammering at each other may not attract a large audience but it certainly deserves one.
Holladay Arts Theater is currently running a production of Herb Gardner’s I’m Not Rappaport. There must be something to the premise if the original Broadway version won the Tony for Best Play in the early ’80s and was made into a movie starting Walter Matthau in the late ’90s. It even warranted a revival on Broadway in 2002 starring Ben Vereen.
So, what is it about two cantankerous guys on a Central Park bench that has been able to hold the interest of the public for nearly 30 years?
The play is virtually a dialogue between Nat (Andrew Maizner), an over-the-top man who refuses to go into old age quietly and Midge (Darryl Stamp), who is resigned to his lot in life. Through their eyes we see them battle many types of people.
- Those in society who are not mean hearted, but are trying to rid themselves of the ‘elderly’ person on their hands. (“You’re givin’ me bad guy news and trying to look like a good guy.”)*
- People who are mean spirited and try to take advantage of them, like the young punk who bullies and robs.
- The family members who love their parents and think they know what is best for them (“Calling me unnecessary is the sin of life. It’s abortion at the other end”).*
- Finally, themselves, their memories (“Nostalgia kills more of us than heart failure”)* and their own fears (“I was and am no one”)*.
Through all of this, I couldn’t help but think of the famous Dylan Thomas poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.”
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
The show, with all it’s seriousness, is riddled with humor from smoking a joint to a tip of the hat to an old vaudeville joke and name sake, “I’m Not Rappaport” which Stamp and Maizner do better than what’s seen in the movie.
Darryl Stamp and Andrew Maizner were outstanding. From the Director’s Notes (Jacob Bruner) in the playbill, Stamp and Maizner asked Holladay Arts to put this piece on and they absolutely made the show. The detail (holding in the smoke of a joint) they paid to the characters made them real and believable. (Get a glimpse of them in rehearsal.)
Stamp’s portrayal of Midge (a nickname given to him by his first wife who was taller than him) was fantastic. Midge is nearly blind with cataracts and with excellent comedic timing he stumbles around the stage, mis-reaches for the joint, and wildly swings a knife at the bad guy, threatening to make “cowboy salad to-go.” Throughout the show he seems to only tolerate Nat (Maizner’s character), but he portrays that toleration with obvious endearment towards his friend.
Nat is a larger than life Jewish New Yorker and con-man portrayed by Maizner. I recently saw Maizner in Salty Dinner’s Christmas Carol where he stepped into the role of Charles Dickens. I had no idea this was the same man until I did a bit of research after the show. His complete transformation into Nat was amazing. From his authentic accent to the distant look in his eyes as he recalls the strike he witnessed in his early youth, Maizner is absolutely the endearing aging waiter who talks too much at the corner diner. It would be nice to see both of these actors in future productions in the area.
The top of the second act between Maziner and Kara Balck, who plays Maziner’s daughter, was rocky. There were several uncomfortable moments with obvious forgotten lines and stumbles. Sadly, the two “tough guys” were not very believable. Paul Chaus seemed way too sweet to pull a knife or talk tough. Spencer Belnap as the Cowboy was strong, but the fighting scenes with either of the actors felt incredibly staged and while the idea of what was happening was dramatic the actual portrayal of it fell flat.
While the lighting and sound all worked well, the music needs to go. There didn’t seem to be a purpose (with the exception of the end). A fade in of music in the middle of a dialogue was distracting and sounded much more like an audience member’s cell phone than part of the show. The set may be improved by taking out the sparse placement of fake plants and the arch is obviously there to hide a door and provide entrance but felt out of place. A simply set with just the park benches would be minimal and nice.
This is the first fully staged production I have seen at Holladay Arts. Producer Beth Bruner was delightful and friendly as she mingled with the audience members during the intermission and after the show. I was sad to see a note in the program that this will likely be the last fully staged production of the Holladay Arts Theater program, due to the lack of funding.
This production was impressive. The acting by Maizner and Stamp was top notch. Personally, I love this kind of theater. For the cost of a movie ticket, you get the opportunity to participate in a live piece of drama. It is awful to me that this may be the last production of theirs. I would recommend checking them out while you still can. If for no other reason, it does what theater is supposed to do – make you think.
* Quotes may not be exact.