Two accomplished actors bestow their ample comic skills on Herb Gardner's ``I'm Not Rappaport,'' at the American Place Theatre. Judd Hirsch and Cleavon Little age themselves by a generation or so to play a pair of Central Park casuals, octogenarian bench warmers whose testy exchanges compose the humorous vaudeville sketch that makes up most of Act I. Mr. Hirsch's Nat is a Jewish-American archetype, a spinner of myths and fantasies in a time-honored tradition. Nat reinvents his past as he goes along, masquerading under various aliases for the pleasure it gives him. What his black fellow benchman, Midge, calls lies, Nat terms ``alterations -- I take in here and let out there.'' Among other things, Nat is engaged in a constant campaign of evasion against the efforts of his long-suffering daughter to provide him with some form of protective shelter. Nat is an impossible old codger.
Mr. Little's Midge is an apartment-house maintenance man who has, by making himself increasingly invisible down among the boilers, managed to hang onto his job. But the building is going cooperative, and the tenants' committee chairman, a Central Park jogger, tracks down the ancient janitor to inform him of the terms on which he will be let go. In Midge's words, ``You're givin' me bad-guy news, tryin' to look like a good guy doin' it.'' Compulsive kibitzer Nat immediately jumps in as a self-appointed, ``attorney'' and spins a web of legalisms that momentarily routs the unwary jogger.
In the second act, fantasy runs into melodrama, with unfortunate consequences for Nat, Midge, and Mr. Gardner's play. Meanwhile, Messrs. Hirsch and Little have an acting field day with Mr. Gardner's one-liners and tartly humorous exchanges. Furthermore, Nat's attempts to prop up his leaning tower of fabrications exert a kind of crazy fascination. (The title comes from a routine made famous by Willie Howard, one of Broadway's great clown princes.)
Among the subsidiary roles, Cheryl Giannini fares best as the put-upon daughter who has long since forsaken Nat's obdurate Marxism but who still cares for his welfare. The cast, directed by Daniel Sullivan, also includes Michael Tucker (the jogger), Jace Alexander (a mugger), Ray Baker (a vicious drug dealer), and Liann Pattison (a vulnerable addict). Designer Tony Walton's picturesque Central Park setting includes not only two battered benches but the rustic bridge under which the action takes place. The production has been autumnally lighted by Pat Collins and costumed by Robert Morgan.