Last August, Dennis Hennessy directed Victor Raider-Wexler in Kansas City Actors Theatre’s “The Gin Game,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning character study of two nursing home residents.
In October, the pair collaborated at New Theatre Restaurant for “You Can’t Take It With You,” exploring an aging family patriarch’s fond eccentricities.
And now they’re at it again in KC Actors Theatre’s production of “I’m Not Rappaport,” about two octogenarians sitting on a park bench, spinning their life stories.
You see, Hennessy is on a mission. With more than 10,000 baby boomers retiring every day, Hennessy said he wants younger people to realize they have a responsibility to the elderly.
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But “Rappaport” is not just a play “for, by and about old people,” said Raider-Wexler.
“It’s two charming people in a situation that’s very, very funny,” he said. “The audience will find themselves laughing hard and frequently and then realize the things they’re laughing about pertain to real things.”
“I’m Not Rappaport,” which runs Aug. 10-28 at Union Station, also stars veteran local actor Granvile O’Neal. The Kansas City, Kan., native has performed in shows from Topeka to Kansas City. His co-star, Raider-Wexler, made a name on Broadway and television, even nabbing a recurring role as a doctor on “Seinfeld.” Hennessy found success on Broadway and in independent film before making his way back to Kansas City and eventually co-owning New Theatre in Overland Park. (Hennessy is known for his theater’s lighter fare, but occasionally dips into more serious material with Actors Theatre.)
O’Neal, as the newbie coming into an established collaboration, said he was nervous to work with such acclaimed professionals.
“It’s been an experience,” O’Neal said. “Working with Victor, he brings out the ability for you to up your game to meet where he’s at. … Dennis makes you feel so comfortable and at ease; he’s not the kind of director that beats you over the head.”
O’Neal plays Midge, a blind building superintendent, and Raider-Wexler plays Nat, a communist and Jew. The two spend their days in Central Park.
“Nat tells these fantastic stories, and Midge gets caught up in them, but then he realizes, ‘This guy’s lying,’ and he gets pissed off at himself for letting himself get caught up in the storyline,” laughed O’Neal.
The title comes from an old vaudeville joke that Nat teaches Midge — when he’s not spinning tall tales.
Raider-Wexler approached Hennessy to direct “I’m Not Rappaport” after he pitched it to the company. Hennessy, already a fan of the show, jumped at the offer and chance to work with Raider-Wexler again.
Raider-Wexler, who calls Kansas City his home now, said live acting is what he’s always wanted to do. When he moved here with his wife, who was a resident at KU Med, he thought he would retire — but found the city’s theater life instead.
“And, boom, I was a Kansas City actor,” he said. “All of a sudden I seemed to be out of retirement and part of the theater scene — what I wanted to do all along.”
He’s especially excited to perform the work of playwright Herb Gardner, whom he calls “an American treasure.” It’s the third production Hennessy and Raider-Wexler have done that focuses on elderly characters, but the comedy-drama speaks to the power of friendship as well. While the two men are strangers at the beginning of the play, they’ve created a bond by the end.
“In all the loneliness of the world, they’ve come together,” Hennessy said. “They’ve come together to become great friends. Together they’re complete.”