I’m Not Rappaport

Downstage Theatre, Wellington

13/10/2007 - 10/11/2007

Production Details

By Herb Gardener
Directed by Steven Ray

Downstage Theatre welcomes back two of New Zealand’s best known and loved actors, George Henare and Ray Henwood, who come together again for the return of the smash hit comedy I’m Not Rappaport.

Inspired by two elderly men playwright Herb Gardner met in New York City‘s Central Park, I’m Not Rappaport focuses on two cantankerous octogenarians: the extremely inventive Nat Moyer (Henwood), and feisty Midge Carter (Henare),  who spend their days sitting on a bench, trying to mask the horrible realities of aging, mainly through the tall tales that Nat spins.

I’m Not Rappaport touches on several issues, including society’s treatment of the aging, the difficulties dealing with adult children who think they know what’s best for their parents and the dangers that lurk in urban areas.

Twenty years ago, George and Ray took on the roles of the feisty old gents Nat and Midge at Downstage and played to sell out audiences.  Since then George has played the role all around the globe.  This time they return with an all star cast of Rima Te Wiata, Michael Whalley, Jason Ward Kennedy and Brooke Williams and with sound-scape designed by the brilliant Gareth Farr.

Laugh out loud as this duo joke and jibe, take on society, drug dealers and thugs, using their humour to battle the perceptions of whom and what our senior members of society should be and be able do.

George Henare and Ray Henwood at their best!
The Evening Post, 1987

Performance Times
Monday – Thursday 6.30pm
Friday & Saturday 8pm
Matinees Sat 20 Oct 2pm, 27 Oct 4pm

Tickets $39-20

Book at Downstage Theatre on 04 801 6946 or on www.downstage.co.nz  

Midge - George Henare
Nat - Ray Henwood
Clara - Rima Te Wiata
Danforth/Cowboy - Jason Ward Kennedy
Gilley - Michael Whalley
Laurie - Brooke Williams

Set Designer - Brian King
Lighting Designer - Lisa Maule
Original Music & Sound Design - Gareth Farr
Costume Designer - Gillie Coxhill
Fight Choreography - Henry
Dance Choreography - Carrie McLaughlin
Scenic Artist - Eileen McCann
Stage Manager - Sarah Pearce
Production Manager - Ross Joblin
Technical Operator - Marc Edwards
Publicity - Brianne Kerr Publicity
Production Photography - Stephen A'Court
Set Construction - John Hodgkins, Phil Halascz and Zain Cooper

Theatre ,

2 hrs 20 mins, incl. interval

An oldie but a goodie

Review by Aaron Watson 26th Oct 2007

Touching, funny and totally engrossing, I’m Not Rappaport should put its stars in the running for Chapman Tripp Awards this year.

Ray Henwood and George Henare play two octogenarians whiling away their days in New York’s Central Park. Neither is prepared to grow old quietly and the play is action-packed – despite most of it taking place on two park benches – with drug taking, muggers, angry employers and family troubles to the fore.

Henwood and Henare performed the same roles 20 years ago and many of the crowd on opening night suggested they had got better (and closer to the characters) with age.

Both capture the physicality of growing old – the slow walk, squinting to see, the odd tremor – without hamming it up or degenerating into slapstick.

And they project the personality of their characters powerfully, and seemingly effortlessly.
As a Spike Milligan-esque Nat Moyer, Henwood tells tales so tall you can’t help but believe him. When he reminisces about past industrial disputes, you can almost hear the shouting voices of protesting workers. When he argues in frustration with his daughter, who thinks it is time he moved into a retirement home, you can hear an echo of the future that will scare anyone old enough to be out of short pants.

Henare plays Midge Carter, the straight man to Moyer’s comical rantings. His desire for a peaceful life is belied by his willingness to go along with Moyer’s schemes, and it is great to watch the conflicting wants for excitement and rest flash across Henare’s features.
It is when misfortune falls on Carter that there were more thAn a few damp eyes in the house.
A tight script, good acting and subject matter relevant to all – this production of I’m Not Rappaport is a winner.


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Comic flair lights up stage

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 22nd Oct 2007

Like old wines and cheeses, Ray Henwood and George Henare get better as they get older especially now that they are closer in age to the curmudgeonly octogenarian odd couple that they play in I’m not Rappaport than they were when they first played the roles 20 years ago at Downstage.

The title comes from an old vaudeville routine in which the straight man has to say "I’m not Rappaport" in reply to the comedian’s questions. Like a vaudevillian double act, Henwood (Nat) and Henare (Midge) bring to their roles that quicksilver style of playing comedy based on timing, trust, and temperament with the added bonus of maturity and hard-earned experience.

The plot is simple enough: Midge, a near blind, timid New York building superintendent who only wants to hold on to his job, is continually sucked into the vortex of Nat’s flights of fancy which range from spying for the FBI to a Marxist revolution.

They meet in a park where "law and order haven’t reached" and where their double act is occasionally interrupted by a mugger (Michael Whalley), a troubled young woman (Brooke Williams), a drug dealer and a spokesman for the residents’ committee of Midge’s apartment block (Jason Ward-Kennedy doubling the roles), and Nat’s daughter (Rima Te Wiata) who wants to put Nat in what he calls a home for the ridiculous.

These moments of realism are contrived and unconvincing and all one wants is to get back to the routine of Nat’s tall tales and Midge’s slow realization that Nat is "not friendly with the truth." Nat is raging against the dying of the light and Midge, though he never fully admits it, vicariously feeds off these tall tales, giving him excitement and life.

Neither actor overdoes the shaking hands or the trembling lips nor do they resort to other clichés of old age that actors often display when playing old people. Watch them eating a sandwich or Henare’s Midge being drawn against his better judgment into listening to Nat’s stories or how Henare uses his eyes to haunting as well as humorous effect to convey what Midge sees both through and beyond his cataracts and glaucoma.

So what the evening is really all about is the pleasure of watching two first-rate actors overcoming the sentimentality and melodrama of the play and lighting up the stage with their often hilarious, perfectly timed comic duet of a black Sancho Panza following a Jewish Don Quixote who is tilting at the very real windmills that beset the elderly.


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Appealing addressing of ‘hide the oldies’ issues

Review by Melody Nixon 18th Oct 2007

The somewhat misleading publicity for this show does nothing to reveal its depth, humour and honesty. Don’t be fooled – this is not a show about two laughing men who are old enough to know better (thought that certainly comes into it). Rather, I’m Not Rappaport is an oft hard-hitting examination of the conflict, cruelty and loss of independence old age brings, interlaced with wit and stirring monologues. Topically relevant and theatrically striking, this Tony Award winner is well worth a view.

Set in New York City during “the later part of the 20th Century” this Downstage production has a 1980s tint to its costuming and rough-edged concrete set. Graffiti creeps out from under grey arches and dominating concrete and steel structures carve the landscape of an inner city park, where we find the two protagonists – Midge (George Henare) and Nat (Ray Henwood). Midge and Nat come to the park daily, and much like the ‘heroes’ of Heroes, they pretend to suffer through one another’s company while secretly cherishing it.

Both Henare and Henwood played the same roles twenty years ago at Downstage – their photos line the wall upstairs to prove it – and they claim the passing of time has done much to aid their understanding of the ailing and disenfranchised, yet ultimately passionate characters. While still some way from the world the octogenarians inhabit, Henare and Henwood fill Midge and Nat with compassion and pride, and portray old age with a humble appreciation. Their humorous ‘stoner’ session in the first scene shows a compatibility that is energising to watch.

Rima Te Wiata, Michael Whalley, Brooke Williams and Jason Ward Kennedy provide a sturdy backing of support roles. Te Wiata gives a brief but compelling performance as the conflicted daughter of Nat. Whalley, having recently flourished as the lead of Circa Two’s The Cape, gives an angst-rich and suitably scary performance as the extortionist park-bum Gilley. When party to Nat’s pleading speeches, Whalley’s jitters seem a little too forced and awkward however, even if his combination of fear and recklessness is appropriate.

Brooke Williams is sympathetic to her character of Laurie, a reforming drug-addict who comes to the park to sketch. But her initial flirtations and encouragement of the old men come across as confusingly juvenile, and the later divulgence of plot could perhaps lead the audience to conclude she has been ‘high’ during these interactions. Her final scene with the dealer ‘Cowboy’ rings clear and true however, and her emotion is measured and accessible.

Jason Ward Kennedy is consistent and endearing as the committee representative Danforth, upon whose shoulders has fallen the task of letting Midge ‘go’ from his job as janitor. Ward Kennedy’s earnestness here contrasts with his conviction as the drug dealing Cowboy and leaves no doubt as to his engagement with both roles, seemingly embedded and comfortable in each.

Set designer Brian King and director Steven Ray seem to be on just the same page with their vision of the imagery and emotion the space is set to create. The rough lines and symmetry of the functional and economical inner city space evoke and mirror the play’s themes precisely. Control, individuality and conflict are contrasted with splashes of colour and comfort. The placing of Danforth, Laurie and the Cowboy in the upper-rungs of the set is inspired, and it is encouraging to see the sometimes neglected space of Downstage being utilised to its full.

One slightly discordant note in the production for this reviewer is sound design by the accomplished Gareth Farr. While Farr’s effects work brilliantly to evoke the dark underbelly of the park, and to hint at the danger and vulnerability of the two central characters, at times they make this point too strongly and fiercely, creating a pervasively ominous tone not followed through in dialogue and acting. A splash of humour, similar to the colour in the set, is needed to complement the full tone of the play, particularly at the show’s opening.

Both Downstage and Circa have – coincidentally – tapped into discourse on the elderly with their current shows. Combined with productions of Heroes and Roger Hall’s Who Wants to be 100? this year, could this represent a growing interest in the concerns of old age? As the mean general population and the first New Zealand theatre practitioners grow ever older, perhaps the issues of our ‘hide-the-oldies’ society need to be brought under the spotlight. Fortunately in the case of I’m Not Rappaport, – and unlike its publicity poster – this production addresses these issues, and should appeal to a wide range of ages, backgrounds and interests.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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Greater relevance for us now in this revival of a modern classic

Review by John Smythe 16th Oct 2007

Men confronting old age has emerged as a recurring theme of this year’s theatre programming. In Herb Garner’s I’m Not Rappaport at Downstage, George Henare and Ray Henwood complete a hat-trick of that ilk, having played together in Heroes at Circa and in the Auckland Theatre Company production of Who Want’s To Be 100 (which was also produced at The Court).*  They also appeared together in The Crucible for the ATC.

This new production of I’m Not Rappaport (which premiered in Seattle then opened on Broadway in 1985, winning a Tony Award for Best Play) also marks the 20th anniversary of the acclaimed Tony Taylor-directed Downstage production, in which the relatively youthful Henare and Henwood also played the octogenarians Midge Carter and Nat Moyer. I missed it then and am delighted to have caught the play now.

Two nobodies have nothing to do and nowhere to go but spend their days on a bench in an unprepossessing corner of Central Park, beneath a concrete pedestrian overpass, shaded by trees and overlooking a lake, apparently (out where the audience sits). These men do not go gently into the night. Nor to they exactly rage, rage against the dying of the light.

George Henare’s feisty thrice-married ex-fighter and ex-philanderer Midge, with his glaucoma, cataracts and milk-bottle glasses, claims to want peace and quiet to read the newspaper he may or may not be able to see. Instead he has to put up with endless tall tale-telling from Ray Henwood’s wonderfully plausible fantasist Nat, who might have been a waiter in reality but has, in the parallel universe of his imagination, lived a rich life of socialist political activism in many guises.

The fantasies may drive Midge crazy but they come to play real roles in the immediate lives of those who pass through this fragment of urban decay. And in the end we – like Midge – have to ask ourselves which ‘reality’ we prefer. Being no-one and no-thing can allow for anyone and anything to fill the existential gap.

Henwood and Henare embrace their roles with consummate flair, seasoned by a maturity that in no way dims the glint in the eye or spring in the step. From Henare’s cantankerous "leave me alone!" Midge, a lifetime of disempowerment and questionable responses to it emerges: seize the day or play it safe? Risk or surrender? Henwood’s Lithuanian Jewish Nat mines rich veins of European émigré history and generations of struggle against the ruling classes with that special quality of humour that seems resigned yet cuts deep when it counts.

Brian King’s set bridges between the permanent, pock-marked concrete inner-stairwell walls that dominate the favoured performing end of the Hannah Playhouse, to emphasize the concrete jungle aspect of NYC with glimpses of graffiti-sprayed walls offering the only respite from greyness. 

Apart from the black, white, grey and brown tones worn by Nat and Midge, colour does also seep through in some of Gillie Coxill’s costume designs, developed in collaboration with the cast.

Penniless art student Laurie (Brooke Williams) is creatively if flimsily clad as she lolls aloft in a deck chair to catch the sun and sketch the lake. The vulnerability of her almost airborne, butterfly beauty is powerfully emphasised when she is threatened by an urban Cowboy loan shark (Jason Ward-Kennedy), classically clothed in tasselled leather and a black Stetson.

Earlier Ward-Kennedy plays a subtler version of the oppressor. Fitness-freak Danforth  represents the new breed of city-dwelling tenant with little capacity to accommodate the likes of Midge but a smooth-talking way of using the system to make it all seem fair. Ward-Kennedy is strong in both roles.

The most down and dirty exponent of fringe-dwelling in the central city is street kid Gilley, who hits on a ‘walk you home’ protection racket as his means of survival. Michael Whalley brings a vulnerability and innocence to the role which somehow makes him more volatile and dangerous.

Rima Te Wiata’s Clara, the respectable middle-class daughter of Nat and now a wife, mother and real estate agent, is quietly stylish in autumnal shades which clearly evoke her present lifestyle while nicely counter-pointing the edgy excitement of their past. Their scenes together are magic, dancing delightfully yet painfully between pragmatism and liberty.

Given the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, Lisa Maule’s lighting validly allows multiple shadows, and shadings and gradings of darkness and brightness, to illuminate subjective rather than objective views.

Gareth Farr’s soundscape gives selective presence to the unrelenting pressures beneath which the characters try to survive; from which they try to escape. It fades and at times disappears as the characters rise above their circumstances and/or allow more pressing or interesting concerns to win their attention. But when they lose their grip, it returns to remind us how miniscule and inconsequential all of us can be in the greater scheme of things.

I’m Not Rappaport (named, incidentally, for the recurring line in a vaudeville routine beloved of Nat), confronts questions of survival in fast growing and changing city centres that are more relevant to us here and now than they would have been 20 years ago. It may be a modern classic but its currency is immediate.

Ultimately it’s a play about being; about who society allows us to be and who we choose to be in response to those unrelenting pressures.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
*Other 2007 productions on the ‘men confronting old age’ theme include Home Land at Circa, and King Lear in the Bacchanals/Fortune Co-pro and the RSC tour – and Lear, of course, overlaps with that other recurring theme, in Auckland at least, of political oppression and brutal control noted by Kate Ward-Smythe in her review of The Cut at Silo.  

Questions: Is it significant or accidental that ageing men should command such focus this year in particular? And what about the women, given they traditionally grow older than men? Are those plays out there but not being produced, have they not been written or am I missing something?
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


John Smythe October 18th, 2007

Let's not forget Helen Moulder's Cynthia Fortitude. While her shows are not about growing old, the fact that she is 'of a certain age' is intrinsic to the comedy. I agree about Bennett, Brianne - and for an example of a woman writing in that league, consider Fiona Samuel's trilogy of TV solo plays, Face Favlue (1995?) - although I don't recall how many explored ageing as such.

Brianne Kerr October 18th, 2007

Alan Bennett writes fabulous plays about and for older women.

Melody Nixon October 18th, 2007

Perhaps plays about old women haven't been written, John? During the post-show talk back for this show the same question was raised, but crew and audience weren't able to come up with many examples. The only ones I can think of that deal with this subject are written by men... for example Albee's 'Three Tall Women' (sort of).

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