I'm Not Rappaport

by Herb Gardner

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Act 1
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 Gilley will not return. Nat’s daughter, Clara, arrives at the park bench, and she is instantly concerned about Nat’s injuries. She also informs Nat that she is not going to be part of his schemes anymore. Nat says that he is concerned Clara is trying to put him in a home. Nat criticizes Clara for betraying her social activist heritage, and they revisit the real-life event that gave Clara her name. Nat met a brave teenager named Clara Lemlich at a union meeting, and her activism inspired him to name his daughter Clara. Clara notes the futility of activism in an apathetic society, and she and Nat argue. Nat tries to smooth it over by...

(This entire section contains 1112 words.)

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beginning an old game involving the phrase, ‘‘I’m Not Rappaport,’’ and Clara is stubborn at first but eventually plays her part.

The game calms them down, but Clara is serious. She gives Nat three options for leaving the park and changing his living situation. Nat rejects all of them, and she threatens to take legal action to get him declared incompetent. Nat makes up a story about a fake daughter, whom he says he is going to live with, to stall Clara’s plans for putting Nat in a home. When Clara is gone, Midge criticizes Nat for lying to his own daughter. However, their argument is interrupted by the arrival of the Cowboy, a drug dealer who comes to collect his money from Laurie, a drug user and artist who hangs out near the park bench. When she is unable to produce all of the money, the Cowboy beats her up and tells her to have the money by the next night and then leaves. Nat and Midge try to comfort Laurie, and Midge tells her she should leave town. However, Nat has a different idea.

Act 2, Scene 2
The next evening, Nat and Midge sit on the park bench dressed up like the mob members that they are playing. Nat quizzes Midge to make sure he remembers all of the details and when the Cowboy arrives to collect his money from Laurie, Nat plays the part of a mob boss. He tries to act threatening, but it does not work, and the Cowboy sees through the act. He grabs Nat and starts to shake him, but Midge comes to Nat’s rescue, brandishing the knife that Gilley dropped. The Cowboy backs off into the tunnel, where he waits unseen. When Midge goes walking through the tunnel to go home, the Cowboy jumps him.

Act 2, Scene 3
Twelve days later, Nat sits alone on the bench, obviously changed. He is no longer animated and is very much acting like the old man he is. Midge returns from the hospital, and Nat tells him that he has given up telling stories because they are only hurting the people he loves, like his daughter. Midge tells Nat that he lost his job because Danforth found out that there was no HURTSFOE. Nat admits that Gilley has returned and that he has raised his protection fee. Nat is miserable as they discuss how all of his plans have failed. Still, Midge is proud of himself for taking on the Cowboy. Nat rises to leave and apologizes for causing Midge grief. He also tells Midge his real name and says that he has been living at an old person’s hotel. He says that he is a nobody and starts to walk away. Midge accuses him of lying again and goads him into telling another tall tale because Midge obviously likes and needs to hear the interesting stories that Nat tells—the truth is much too painful. Nat takes the bait, sits on the park bench, and launches into another story.