“I’m Not Rappaport” is a hard comedy to love. The show, which opened the Kansas City Actors Theatre’s 12th season, offers some genuinely witty dialogue, a few gorgeously profound monologues, and a bit of truly worthwhile character development.
The script, which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1985, also offers a quietly searing indictment of capitalism — one that feels especially relevant in the wake of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “Rappaport,” though, is also a tad creaky, with a stilted quippiness to the dialogue and some ridiculously frustrating plot points.
The story concerns two old men who strike up a friendship on a Central Park bench, a setting admirably conveyed by the scenic design of Jason Coale. The louder of men, Nat (Victor Raider-Wexler) is a Jewish atheist, erstwhile radical and compulsive storyteller who waxes poetic about the glory days of Communism. Midge (Granvile O’Neal) is an African-American ex-boxer and current building superintendent who worries about losing his apartment and job.
Raider-Wexler was splendid. His nuanced, heartfelt performance was reason enough to see the show. Monologuing on the vagaries of elderhood or wistfully dreaming of love that never was, Raider-Wexler managed to find a sympathetic truth in an only half-sympathetic character. He also wisely chose not to use a Yiddish accent, keeping the cadences of “Yinglish,” but speaking in his normal inflection and tone, and it’s no mean feat to deliver Borscht Belt comedy in a Midwestern twang.
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O’Neal, also a talented actor, unfortunately, seemed a bit off at this particular show. At least in the first act, when he stumbled over a few lines and occasionally lapsed into vaudevillian sing-songery. He recovered nicely, though, bringing real pathos and growth to Midge by the end of the night.
The rest of the cast was equally mixed. Cheryl Weaver as Nat’s daughter ably threw a wet blanket on her father’s flights of fantasy. Amy Attaway was convincing as Laurie, despite a character given little to do. Mark Robbins did well as a nemesis of Midge’s, Pete Danforth, casually cloaked in privilege and money.
The other villains were less effective. Brian Huther played an Irish thug with only a sporadic Irish accent. Logan Black, as an ostensibly violent drug dealer, simply didn’t conjure much menace.
The performances, though, are almost beside the point. For that matter, so is the story, which hinges on a scam reminiscent of a “Three’s Company” rerun. The play serves mostly as a meditation on aging and its discontents, ultimately offering a warm and endearing message. Fundamentally, though, the play also feels a bit musty. Granted, there’s an irony in criticizing a play about aging for being outdated, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
It’s a bit like visiting your grandpa. “Rappaport” is a bit corny and not quite as funny as it thinks. It sometimes gets grumpy or weepy. Nevertheless, there’s lots of heart and wisdom there, and it’s worth a few hours of your time.