I've been writing for Houston's BroadwayWorld page for a brief 8 ½ months now, and one thing that I quickly learned and came to love about Houston is that there is always a wide selection of venues and titles to choose from. This past Saturday, I ventured from my residence in a Southeast suburb of the city to Playhouse 1960 for the very first time to see their production of I'M NOT RAPPAPORT. The aesthetically well-designed and beautiful performance space is nestled near FM 1960 and US 290, and the company provides audiences with a production of the Tony Award-winning comedy that leaves audiences with plenty to talk about it.
Herb Gardner's I'M NOT RAPPAPORT introduces audiences to two elderly gentlemen who spend their days passing time in New York City's Central Park. The year is 1982, and the park is viper's den of miscreants, drug pushers, drug abusers, and other seedy personages. Think New York City about 12 years before Michael Eisner teamed up with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Governor Mario Cuomo to clean up the city and make it a family friendly tourist destination. The supposed comedy plays out with less laughs than it does insightful treatises on how we, as a society, dispose of our elderly. Nat is constantly spinning yarns and divulging lies to continue to feel important in some way. His stories are so fanciful and contrived that the audience never knows what is actually true or is even based in truth. With no one properly caring for these two gentlemen, they expose themselves to terrible dangers in an attempt to enjoy the remaining drops of quantity in their lives.
Direction by Christine Weems exposes the audience to the devastating thematic abandonment of the main characters, causing some members of the audience to state that this was "the most depressing play" they had ever seen during intermission. While the show earned laughs, they were few and far between. The two main characters are beautifully fleshed out and made real; however, the supporting cast is a confusing mash-up of a daughter that wants to be concerned about her father, a tenant of a building, a drug dealer, and a druggie who cleaned up and went to art school. After all, art school is definitely the best pick for the recently sober to avoid exposure to drugs. Likewise, the plot of the 1984 play unfolds slowly as Nat bumbles and ambles his way through his tall tales. Sadly, the two hour and twenty minute run time, which includes intermission, feels long for the audience. Yet, considering the meandering dialogue, I feel a lot of the lack of humor, awkward characterization, and pacing is inherent in the script and not the fault of the director.
Starring as Nat, a feisty Jew, John Stevens creates and portrays a human being who is believably an 82 year old man. He clumsily spins grandiose tales and elicits the shows most laughter when he pretends to be a lawyer representing Midge. However, at times I would have liked for him to drop his perfectly practicEd Mannerisms of the elderly to be a little livelier in the role. I feel that the audience may have been drawn further into the plot and the pacing may have appeared to clip by at a more engaging speed if he had made these choices.
As Midge, a cantankerous elderly African-American man, Sedric Willis portrays a more youthful man than John Stevens does, but he is just as blundering. His understanding of the park's dangers is made explicitly clear as he discusses paying a young hoodlum to walk him home safely. He is also grounded in reality and knows that Nat is taking him for a ride with every story, but encourages the tales as they at least pepper his day with something interesting. As the long time superintendent for an apartment building, he is facing being let go which adds a heartbreaking element of defeat to his character because despite his age and problems with eye sight he is still able to physically perform the duties of his job.
Wayne White plays Danforth as an upper-class, middle aged man who has no need for Midge as the superintendent of his building. He lacks empathy and is obnoxious. The performance seemed solid, but physical choices made by the actor took me out of the moment. The heel of his right foot was consistently held up off the floor, making it appear that he was unsure if he has reached his mark or if he was anticipating the next time his blocking required him to move.
LeeAnne Denny brings suitable life to Clara, Nat's daughter. She is overbearingly overprotective, but it is clear that she really has no clue how to care for her father. She is not empathetic to his needs and is just looking for the best senior home to squirrel him away in. Out of sight, out of mind. Furthermore, LeeAnne Denny turns her head away from the audience while delivering several lines, and does not amplify her projection to ensure that she is heard when making that choice.