Herb Gardner’s I’m Not Rappaport was first published in 1986 in New York. Gardner first got the idea for the play when he was writing in New York’s Central Park. He witnessed two animated old men, one white and one black, who would alternate between sitting quietly and yelling at each other. This strange friendship intrigued Gardner, who used it as the basis for I’m Not Rappaport’s two main characters, Nat and Midge. The play caused a stir when it was first produced on Broadway. The unique characters of Nat and Midge and their feisty resilience to the world around them, made the play a hit. These unlikely heroes try to mask the horrible realities of aging, mainly through the tall tales and deceptions that Nat creates. The play touched on several contemporary issues when it was produced, including society’s treatment of the elderly and the dangers that lurked in urban areas like New York. Although Gardner has had great success with his many stage plays and screenplays, I’m Not Rappaport is one of his best-known and most popular works. It experienced a revival in New York in 2002, which once again featured Judd Hirsch in his original role as Nat.
A current copy of I’m Not Rappaport can be found in Herb Gardner: The Collected Plays, which was published by Applause Theatre Book Publishing in 2000.
I’m Not Rappaport begins with Nat sitting on a park bench in New York’s Central Park, where all of the action in the play takes place, wondering what he was talking about. His companion on the bench, Herb Gardner
Midge, informs Nat that he has not been listening to anything that Nat was saying. Right away, the cantankerous interplay between these two eightyyear- old characters is established. As Nat and Midge continue their conversation, the audience finds out that Nat has been talking at Midge for a week, telling him stories that Midge thinks are tall tales. The first of these is that Nat is a spy who was chosen by the government to pose as an escaped Cuban terrorist. Despite himself, Midge is impressed by the story and starts to believe it. Nat says that he is in deep cover and that the government is probably planning on sending him on a mission in five years or so. Finally, Midge realizes that he has been had and gets very upset, threatening to beat up Nat. In his youth, Midge was a boxer, and he tries to demonstrate some of his old moves for Nat but ends up falling in the process. While Midge lies on the ground, Nat talks to him and helps him verify that he has not broken any bones.
Through their discussion, Midge reveals that he is employed as a superintendent in an apartment complex where he is the only one who knows how to run the building’s ancient furnace. Midge also talks about how he pays off a local thug for protection—from the thug and others. Nat, a former social reformer, refuses to listen to talk like this just as he refuses to admit that he is old. Midge prepares for a meeting with his supervisor, Danforth, who comes by the park bench to tell Midge that he is being let go. However, Nat intervenes, posing as an attorney for a fake organization called HURTSFOE, which champions human rights. Danforth is frightened by Nat’s convincing speech and agrees to see what he can do about letting Midge keep his job. However, Midge is concerned that Danforth will find out Nat is lying and that Midge will then lose the little severance pay that they were offering him. Midge’s thug, Gilley, arrives expecting his payment in return for walking Midge home. Midge dutifully prepares to do this, but Gilley sees Nat and tells Nat that he has to pay, too. When Nat does not follow Gilley, Gilley comes back and pulls a knife on Nat. Nat tries to fight Gilley but gets beat up instead.
Act 2, Scene 1
Nat gets out of the hospital the next day and arrives back at the park, this time with a walker. Although he is physically slower, he is animated about his encounter with Gilley, which he considers a triumph, thinking that...
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