I’M NOT RAPPAPORT, Stage Actors Ensemble. Having seen many pictures of Judd Hirsh and Garrett Morris in bad makeup on a park bench when Herb Gardner’s bittersweet drama of octogenarians was doing boffo box office back in the 80s, I always assumed this was a two-character play. I was wrong, but only sort of: it should have been a two-character play. Despite Gardner’s tendency to stereotype, his occasionally infuriating paternalism, and his facile moral tone, when he focuses on the growing friendship between Nat, wild-eyed Jewish socialist, and Midge, complacent black building manager, the play sparkles.

In this Stage Actors Ensemble production Kenneth Johnson offers a flawless performance as Midge, giving the character humor and dignity. Bob Maram as Nat hits a few false notes, but what he lacks in technical skill he makes up for with genuine compassion and pathos. This staging falters, unfortunately, just where Gardner’s script does – in the characters and plot devices surrounding the two leads. Although these characters – an insensitive WASPish type, Nat’s overprotective daughter, a bullying Irish hoodlum, and a menacing drug dealer – do raise significant issues confronting the elderly, they’re so cartoonish they seem written for a lamebrain George Burns vehicle. And the unconvincing performances director David Mason coaxes from his cast for these characters bring the show to a halt. Only when Johnson and Maram sit alone for the poignant coda does the play come close to recovering.

–Adam Langer