BWW Reviews: I'M NOT RAPPAPORT Is More Than Worthy of Its Encore Production
It's become a trend, both locally and nationally, for theater companies to reprise a production several years later with the same cast. Of course, if a show gets an encore, it better be deserving of it. In the case of Austin Playhouse's I'm Not Rappaport, the encore is more than well deserved, and its two stars put on a veritable master class in acting.
Austin Playhouse's production of the Tony Award winning 1985 play by Herb Gardner reunites actors Tom Parker and Billy Harden with director Don Toner, all of whom worked together on productions of the play in 1989 and 1998. The play follows two elderly gentlemen, one a spitfire New York Jew (Tom Parker) and the other a crotchety African American (Billy Harden) who spend their days sitting on a bench in Central Park discussing the harsh realities of aging and the sense of invisibility that comes with it.
Gardner's text is so void of action, the moments of action feel thrown in out of obligation and not necessity. The subplots about the violent muggers and drug dealers go nowhere and add very little. But that's no matter; the moments when the two leads do nothing but talk are the heart of the show. While it may be tough to pull off a play that's primarily just two people talking rather than doing, Gardner's dialogue is brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking. It gives the two leads plenty to work with. As Nat, Parker clearly delights in the many tall tales and energetic rants that his character spews. Harden's take on Midge is equally incredible, especially in an act one scene which finds him facing an unplanned retirement. The two also have a remarkable chemistry that few onstage duos have. Their moments together-which thankfully make up the bulk of the play-are magical. Mary Agen Cox and J. Ben Wolfe are also quite strong in the supporting roles of Nat's daughter and Midge's employer, respectively. Cox plays Clara as a woman who has her father's strength and stubbornness but tempers it with a gentility, and Wolfe is excellent as the stammering, backboneless Danforth.
Given the strength of Parker and Harden's performances and the wonderfully funny and thought-provoking moments of Gardner's text, it's no wonder why Austin Playhouse has revived I'm Not Rappaport, and if we're lucky, it will be revived again soon.
I'M NOT RAPPAPORT plays Austin Playhouse inside the Highland Mall (6001 Airport Blvd, Austin TX 78752) now thru May 3rd. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $28-$30. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinplayhouse.com