Saturday, September 18, 2021

By John Baggett

The year has just begun, and Tyler Civic Theatre is continuing their hot streak with a production of the Tony Award winning classic, “I’m Not Rappaport.”

Set in the fall of 1982, the story centers around two elderly gentlemen who spend their time sitting on the bench in the lower income section of Central Park. There is Nat (Allison Cambre), an aging Communist with a penchant for tall tales and a disdain of capitalism and being “a nobody.” His frequent, unwilling audience is Midge (William Igbokwe), a superintendent whose eyesight is almost as absent as his patience for Nat. The taller the tale Nat tells, the more Midge falls for it, only to come to his senses as the story becomes grander.

Both men are hiding in plain sight – Nat from his daughter, Clara (DeAnna Hargrove) and Midge from Danforth (Michael McLeod), the head of the tenants’ association who intends to rid the building of Midge’s services and residency, as the building is being turned into a co-op. Clara wants Nat to come stay with her or move into a retirement home, as the neighborhood has become too dangerous. This is something Midge can attest to, as he pays one of the local muggers, Gilley (Asa Johnson), to walk him home, as well as protection from other thieves.

Observing them all is a quiet young art student, Laurie (Tara Hoover), whose connection to a mysterious man only known as Cowboy (Jake Gillard) will inevitably draw Midge and Nat into her problems, causing them to get into even more trouble than they were already in, thanks to Nat’s mouth.

The play was written by the great Herb Gardner, who is also known for “A Thousand Clowns” and “The Good People.” Along with “Rappaport,” he also adapted these works into feature films. This production was directed by Tilly McLeod, who previous directed productions of “A Christmas Story” and “Harvey.” McLeod took on this award winning classic and delivered the production is deserves, assembling a cast of wonderful talent, several of whom learned their parts in just a handful of rehearsals due to illness and weather. Even with all of the obstacles they faced, they pulled off a fantastic show.

Cambre is great as Nat, adding an air of sweetness to the role, and getting big laughs the more his character boasts with each wild yarn he spins. Igbokwe, in his first play ever, takes on a role beyond his years and holds his own against stage veterans. He often steals the show, is incredibly talented, and hopefully returns to the Civic Theatre stage very soon.

Hargrove is fantastic as Clara, mixing New York sassiness with heartfelt emotion as a daughter trying to protect her father. Hoover is great in her handful of scenes. Her character may not say much, but her physical performance is wonderfully natural and you can tell her joy of watching Nat and Midge is genuine. As Danforth, Mr. McLeod is hysterical, and you almost feel bad for him when he becomes the target of Nat’s shenanigans. Finally, our two villains, Cowboy (Gillard) and Gilley (Johnson), in a show filled with laughs, do an excellent job of reminding us of the looming threats around the rest of the cast. They both deliver performances that are as menacing as everyone else is charming.

“I’m Not Rappaport” is a delightful, frequently funny show that despite being set in the early 80s feels pretty timeless. Honestly, if they didn’t tell you it was set in the 80s, save for one costume, this story could be from 30 years or 3 days ago. It’s another great show at Tyler Civic Theatre and one that I truly believe you will enjoy.

“I’m Not Rappaport” opens on Friday, February 2nd and runs through Sunday, February 11th.  Tyler Civic Theatre is located at 400 Rose Park Drive.  For more information and to purchase tickets go to http://tylercivictheatre.com/production/2017-2018/im-not-rappaport