Theater

Nat (Don Lyons, left) and Midge (Jamie Harris): Photo by Ralph Stewart
Nat (Don Lyons, left) and Midge (Jamie Harris) meet in the park where Nat spins one story after another. Photos by Ralph Stewart

Discover Rappaport

By CK Wolfson - July 6, 2006

Two engaging octogenarians meet on a bench in Manhattan's Central Park to stage a daily duel of words in an ongoing contest for survival with dignity. In the course of their bickering and banter, some essentials about aging, human nature, and reality are revealed in The Island Theatre Workshop's brilliant production of Herb Gardner's 1986 play, "I'm Not Rappaport."

Nat, a garrulous old Jew, full of invention and sparkling bravado, wants not to go gently, but to rail against the indignities that are imposed upon the elderly. Midge, a retired boxer, the black superintendent of an apartment building about to become a condo, seeks safety in remaining as inconspicuous as possible. It is through their differences that each helps the other tighten their losing grip on independence.

Clara (Mary Gould): Photo by Ralph Stewart
Clara (Mary Gould) is worried about her father, Nat, in "I'm Not Rappaport."

Nat, once a rabid political and social activist, spouts one fabrication after another, including the one about his being an escaped Cuban terrorist. Midge, big, gentle and gullible, accuses him of lying. After all, why would an old man be picked for such a job? Nat, who insists they are "not lies; they are alterations," retorts, "Maybe because no one will pay attention. You can go through the world like a ghost."

And so the play continues; an essential truth lurking behind every laugh. The audience smiles with recognition as one after another reality of aging is delivered as a quip or punch line. With weak bones and weaker vision - both men barely able to see, Nat quips, "Who needs sight when you have vision?"

From the moment Nat (Don Lyons) and Midge (Jamie Harris) take center stage, the air is charged and the audience held captive. The two actors, each with deep-toned, full volume projection, are seasoned to a point where they have mastered nuance as well as inflection. One speaks, and the other actively listens, as if hearing the words for the first time. There are no random gestures, each actor's movements and expressions serve mood and meaning throughout the play.

Both are longtime favorites of Vineyard audiences. Mr. Lyons, Sports Editor for the Martha's Vineyard Times, and Mr. Harris, a surgical nurse at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, began appearing in ITW productions shortly after it was founded in the 1960s.

The cast is further supported by Mary Gould, perfectly cast as Nat's daughter Clara. She makes Clara, concerned about her aging parent, shimmer with energy and sensitivity. Clara knows her father's schtick verbatim, and remains undaunted when he accuses her of giving up Marx and Lenin for Bergdorf and Goodman.

Danforth (Tony Omer, left) and Nat (Don Lyons): Photo by Ralph Stewart
Danforth (Tony Omer, left) is taken in by one of Nat's tales.

Midge also has someone threatening his status quo: Danforth, president of the tenants' committee who is trying to evict him and dispose of his services. As portrayed by Anthony Omer, operations manager at the Martha's Vineyard Times, Danforth remains likable despite his unhappy mission. "Why, the man is an easy 80," Danforth defensively says to Nat, who's posing as Midge's legal council. "There's nothing easy about 80," snaps Nat.

The cast is completed in grand fashion by Emerson College sophomore Jonathan Ryan, whom Islanders have watched grow up on Vineyard stages. He plays The Cowboy, an arrogant drug dealer who prowls the park. Jake Estabrook is convincing as Gilley, a menacing hoodlum extorting protection money from Midge. Aubrey Gibavic, a Martha's Vineyard Times reporter, takes the role of Laurie, an addict being threatened by The Cowboy. While Laurie spends most of the play seated in the background silently sketching the park landscape, this first-time Vineyard actress holds her character with poise.

Directed by ITW artistic director Lee Fierro, the production gleams with professional polish, and should not be missed.

"I'm Not Rappaport," July 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, and 15, 7:30 pm, at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, Spring Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $15 or $12 for students and seniors. Call 508-693-5290 for tickets.