Encore Theatre hosts "Love Boat" vets in engaging, thoughtful "I’m Not Rappaport"


Ted Lange and Fred Grandy in I'm Not Rappaport.

Former Love Boat stars Ted Lange and Fred Grandy in Encore Theatre's presentation of I'm Not Rappaport. Photo by Michele Anliker Photography.

You remember The Love Boat? Sure you do.

On Saturday nights from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s, the captain and his crew would help passengers find love, laughs, and life lessons.

Encore Theatre is taking a brief break from presenting musicals to showcase Herb Gardner’s I’m Not Rappaport, a funny, engaging, and thoughtful look at aging in the big city. It’s a perfect opportunity for a Love Boat reunion, bringing together Fred Grandy as the cruise ship purser Gopher; Ted Lange as Isaac Washington, the ship’s genial bartender; and Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the captain’s daughter.

Two old men share a park bench in New York’s Central Park. Midge Carter (Lange) claims the bench for himself, a place where he can read a newspaper and hide from his obligations as a building superintendent. Nat Moyer (Grandy), a lifelong political lefty, loves to talk and wants to share his endless stories with the wary Midge. They’re an odd couple, who learn just how much they need each other.

Director Vincent Cardinal draws excellent performances from his veteran stars. They bring years of experience and a real love for the play they’re presenting. Cardinal balances physical comedy with the snappy and telling conversations that are the real heart of the play.

Grandy's Nat is a storyteller, a raconteur, and a lovable liar. He’s a longtime New Yorker, a proud but not too religious Jew. Grandy gets the accent just right, the jittery moves even when he’s just sitting on a bench, the waving arms, the mock whispers of a spy (one of his many personas). It’s Nat who is always improvising. There is the life he’s led and then there’s the lives he’s invented and prefers. 

Lange's Midge is a man who, so he thinks, wants to be alone but really dreads it. He’s the quieter one until he’s aroused. He tries to avoid work but he’s proud that he’s the only one who can operate the building's very elderly boiler. He’s a Black man who is wary of his bench mate—and spiteful of his stories at first. Lange plays Midge as both a tough guy and a softie. He roars and cowers and comes through when called. Lange gets all their emotions just right.

The two men love the Big Apple, love the energy, love the park. But New York is not an easy place for the elderly. The play uses the dangers of the city as a series of encounters that bring the two men closer together.

Whelan plays Nat’s daughter Clara. Nat has separated himself from his other children and tries to escape from his daughter’s attempts to get him out of the city and into a senior facility or to live with her. Whelan plays the nagging daughter but is best when she briefly plays along with her father’s enthusiasms and his distorted memories of his glory days as a leftwing activist

That distortion, invention, and style are what keep Nat moving. As long as he keeps imagining, he feels alive. With a new friend in Midge, he has someone who can, maybe, join in the game of staying young.

When Midge is threatened with losing his job, Nat pretends to be a lawyer who will fight his case to the end. When a girl is in trouble with a drug dealer, Nat and Midge, reluctantly, take on the role of “deadly” gangsters. 

John Bixler plays an agent for a company that is buying the building where Midge works. Bixler is good at playing the sympathetic bearer of bad news who gets twisted around by Nat’s fake lawyer. 

Other cast members are Jerry Jarvis as the drug pusher, Logan Saad as the girl with a drug problem, and Ethan Van Slyke as a young thug who takes advantage of Midge.

Set designer Sarah Tanner and lighting designer Joseph R. Walls have created a perfect little section of Central Park with an overpass, a tunnel, autumn trees, and graffiti. They capture that tension between beauty and danger. 

I’m Not Rappaport is not just about aging. It’s also about imagination, independence, friendship, and love. 

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

Herb Gardner’s "I’m Not Rappaport" will continue at the Encore Musical Theatre in Dexter at 7:30 pm on Saturday, April 12; 2 pm on Sunday, April 14; 3 pm on April 17-18; 7:30 pm on April 19-20; and 2 pm on April 21. For tickets, call 734-268-6200 or go to theencoretheatre.org.