- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

"I'm Not Rappaport" at Ford's Theatre gives audiences a chance to see two masters at work.
Tony Award-winning actors Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen star in the production directed by Daniel Sullivan. Both have appeared in the play before, Mr. Hirsch on Broadway and Mr. Vereen in San Francisco. Mr. Hirsch won a Tony for the 1986 Broadway premiere of the show.
The comedy takes place in a secluded area in New York City's Central Park in fall 1982, as two friends fight retirement and the aging process. Nat (Mr. Hirsch) and Midge (Mr. Vereen) retreat to a park bench as an escape from the reality of their situations.
Nat passes the hours by telling stories, making jokes and pretending to have other identities. He is practically a stand-up comic, arguing that crying kills more people than heart disease. He says he really doesn't lie about life. Instead, he says, "I make certain alterations. I take in here. Let out there."
Although Midge knows Nat has a tendency to inflate the truth, one thinks Midge wants to believe the tales. If the fantasies were true, life wouldn't be as dreary.
Midge, an apartment superintendent, hides in the park to avoid tenants who want their building to become a condo and Midge to retire so they can sell his apartment. Danforth (Anthony Arkin) is the tenant sent to do the dirty work of firing Midge, saying that "time is the only villain." Nat defends Midge, pretending to be a lawyer. He says that such abuse against the elderly is "a sin against life." He calls it "abortion at the other end."
The dialogue between the two companions is hilarious. One knows they must be wonderful friends to continue to insult each other on such a primary level. For instance, Midge says, "I'm kind of nearsighted." Nat replies, "Helen Keller was nearsighted." Referring to Nat's comments, Midge says, "Why, Lord, why are you doing this to me?"
One sees how the men want to retain their passion for life. They stand up to Gilley (Steven Boyer), a bully who charges Midge to walk him home "safely," but their battles aren't without wounds. Clara (Mimi Lieber), Nat's daughter, is concerned that her father will be found dead one day. She doesn't like that he spends so much time on the street. She threatens to go to court to get a judge to order him to enter a nursing home. Nat doesn't want to surrender his independence.
The two men continue their daily routine. They even try to defend Laurie (Tanya Clarke), a girl in the park who owes money to the Cowboy (Jeb Brown), a drug dealer. Their actions cause Midge to end up in the hospital, which prompts Nat to re-evaluate his lifestyle.
Nat succumbs to his daughter's wishes and starts attending a program for the elderly each afternoon. When Midge returns from his hospital stay, Nat returns to the park looking for him. Nat says to Midge, "I am no one, no one at all."
The lifelong radical says his career never progressed beyond being a waiter, which Midge says cannot be true. Although Nat attempts to find his way to the elderly center for the day, the two become sidetracked in more of Nat's stories and their park bench conversations continue.
One might think that Mr. Hirsch and Mr. Vereen were born to play these roles together. They don't just act. They embody the characters with great chemistry. Mr. Vereen's body language and gestures are especially effective. The duo didn't even break character for the curtain call Thursday night when they received a standing ovation. Anyone who likes to laugh will enjoy this show.
***1/2
WHAT: "I'm Not Rappaport"
WHERE: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, except Feb. 17, and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
TICKETS: $27 to $43
PHONE: 703/218-6500 or 202/347-4833
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS



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