The sun will officially set on Friday at 9:22 p.m. So close to the Summer Solstice, these late-night dusks mean that outdoor evening activities abound in the Wood River Valley.
Concerts, street parties and more help usher in the summer, and this weekend sees a quintessential fixture of the bright, warm nights: theatre in the park.
The Royal Larkspur Players, headed by Gary Hoffman, will present two performances of Herb Gardner’s acclaimed comedy “I’m Not Rappaport” this weekend. All proceeds from both performances go to benefit local nonprofits.
Following its Broadway debut in 1985, “I’m Not Rappaport” claimed three Tony awards, including Best Play and Best Actor in a Play.
The play ran for nearly 900 performances during its initial tenure on Broadway, a noteworthy achievement for a nonmusical. Those who did not see it on Broadway may be familiar with the 1996 film adaptation starring Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.
The story centers on the tribulations of two aging New Yorkers, Nat and Midge, facing generational disconnect and an impending sense of obsoleteness.
Gardner drew inspiration for the play from two elderly men he once encountered in Central Park. Both in their early 80s, Nat and Midge commiserate over the pitfalls of aging, dealing with know-it-all children and the pervasive idea that they no longer hold an important place in society.
Nat, played in this production by Gary Hoffman, is a firebrand socialist. His counterpart, Midge, played by George Lima, is a cantankerous apartment house superintendent soon to be muscled into retirement against his will.
The dialogue between the two—and the five other characters who appear throughout the play—weaves together snappy sparring, vaudeville-style jokes and instances of powerful insight to form an intrinsically captivating comedy.
Hoffman, who is also producing and directing, lauded the care and thoughtfulness with which Gardner wrote, painting the older generation—Gardner was only in his early 50s when he penned the script—in an understanding light.
“It’s all about the joys and perils of getting old, but it’s not ‘Grumpy Old Men,’” Hoffman said. “It’s savvy old men, a little past their time, but refusing to believe that they are no longer of use in the world.”
Speaking of his own character, Nat, Hoffman said, “He’s a diagnosed socialist, but there are no politics in this play, no preaching about medical care or Wall Street tycoons. It’s about helping the little people hands-on. Nat is best summed up by a line of his, ‘The proper response to the outrageous is to be outraged.’”
Cam Cooper, Dawson Howard, Lynn Mason, Sean Sheehan and Jessie Timmons round out the cast, popping in and out to play off of Nat and Midge.
The performances will be held outside at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden.
“The whole play is set in Central Park. The stand-in here is the Sawtooth Botanical Garden and it’s an absolutely perfect setting,” said Hoffman, noting the desirability of an outdoor location over an indoor stage.
The action takes place near Central Park’s famous carousel, so to help create the illusion of New York City, Hoffman will use an audio recording of the exact calliope music that plays in the famous merry-go-round.
Hoffman joked that audience members will be able to transport themselves to Central Park, without having to worry about “muggers and drug dealers.” Instead, in the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, the Royal Larkspur Players will present a summery marriage of art and nature in an intimate setting.
For an actor, that provides an immediacy and energy unlike a traditionally staged performance.
“You can see people’s intake of breath, people’s eyes riveted on the stage, and it tells you you’re making an impact,” Hoffman said. “Bigger to me is not always better. I like intimate theater.”
Hoffman’s theater company, Royal Larkspur Players, is a nonprofit organization, but, he noted, unusual in that it “doesn’t take donations,” at least not for itself.
For the past 20 years, Hoffman has produced plays in the area for the benefit of other local nonprofits, which he selects depending on the subject matter of each play.
“I’m Not Rappaport” will be presented free of charge at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden, but Hoffman suggests a donation of $15 to benefit the garden, Senior Connection and NAMI-WRV.
Aside from supporting good causes and making his audience laugh, Hoffman hopes to inspire people as well.
“I can’t imagine anybody of any age group, especially those over 40—those who are looking at their own aging and those who have aged parents—who won’t take away some very, very worthwhile concepts and won’t laugh their heads off in the process,” he said.
Performances begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 28, and Saturday, June 29. Grab a lawn chair, make a donation to a local nonprofit and enjoy this award-winning comedy.