Old Heart‘s debut is scheduled for two performances at the Redford Theatre: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 14, and 4 p.m. Sunday, May 15.
In the midst of a varied writing career — articles, books, feature films — Roger Rapoport decided to go live with the immediacy of a theatrical presentation.
The impetus came in 2019 after reading Peter Ferry’s award-winning novel Old Heart, which is about an American veteran attempting to reconnect with a World War II Netherlands romance that had dimmed as the war ended.
The play’s debut is scheduled for two performances at the Redford Theatre: 7 p.m. Saturday, May 14, and 4 p.m. Sunday, May 15.
“When I read the novel, I saw it as an intimate drama that would work really well on stage,” said Rapoport, who grew up during family moves from Detroit, into Oak Park and then Muskegon, where he resettled some 18 years ago after pursuing career opportunities in other states.
“I like that this story resonates across a cultural divide. These two people in the story are from vastly different worlds, and their ability to share who they are is complicated by language, upbringing and the war itself. He’s African American, and she’s Jewish.
“I knew this story would have special appeal for families involved with assisted living decisions, and that’s where the play starts.”
Tom Johnson, the main character played by Ed Gaines in later years and Jakari Carson in flashbacks, is a Detroiter who was in college when the war started and then joined the army. Sarah van Praag, played by Melanie Lamrock, was in hiding after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands.
Ironically, the backstory involving the circumstances surrounding the two brings up similarities to the devastation of conditions occurring in Ukraine, observed Rapoport, whose family ancestry is based in Ukraine.
The couple in the play joined forces with the resistance movement to smuggle food for starving populations, and television allows today’s viewers around the world to watch volunteers trying to combat the tragedy of starvation as the Russian military blocks relief efforts.
The play is directed by Karl King and produced by the Redford Theatre, King and Glenside Productions, Rapoport’s company. Among Jewish community members helping to get the word out about the production are Mark Jacobs, co-director and co-founder of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, and Ted Cohen, chief marketing officer at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.
“I am blessed because my films have had a remarkable group of stage actors,” said Rapoport, whose myriad of recent projects has included screenings of his latest movie, Coming Up for Fair, which delves into teenage mental health problems. “During the 10 years that I’ve been producing films, the actors all said trying to do a play is a lot more complicated.
“I learned that the writing process for a play is much more collaborative. We did a series of table reads, and every time the actors went through the script, they would change the dialogue spontaneously. They took the written word and made it more colloquial. Invariably, the changes were better.
“We’ve been doing reads for over two years, and I like the group aspect of it, even during COVID, when we had to do this on Zoom. [Entering the collaborative writing process going into theater is like] going from being a diver to joining a soccer team.”
A Diverse Career
Rapoport became interested in a writing career while attending high school in Muskegon, where his family has belonged to Temple B’nai Israel and where he has resumed affiliation. His professional commitment was perked by reading the Stanford University student-run campus newspaper, The Stanford Daily, edited by his older brother Ron, who went on to achieve recognition in sports journalism.
When Rapoport attended the University of Michigan, he edited the student-run campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, and went on to work at California newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Oakland Tribune. For 17 years, he had a book publishing firm (RDR Books) and accepted some Holocaust-centered texts.
His attention to Jewish history additionally has been expressed through various articles, such as one circulated by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It has to do with a man believed to be Crete’s last Holocaust survivor.
“Peter’s book — and so this play — is about the Holocaust, but it’s not a Holocaust book per se,” Rapoport, 75, said about what captured his attention. “It’s a wider story than that.”
Rapoport’s re-entry into the Michigan artistic community evolved after he was invited to give a speech at the Muskegon library in 1995, when family considerations began motivating his return. Meetings with writing pros connected him to filmmakers, and his early feature film venture included another book adaptation, WaterWalk, which is about a father and son tackling travel along the Mississippi River.
A multi-tasker, Rapoport is looking forward to the publication of his first novel, My Search for Sarah Price, to be released later this year by Lexographic Press in Chicago. Earlier books have centered on travel, aviation, politics and biography.
Regardless of project, this writer may randomly disperse his work time throughout the day.
“If I don’t write down an idea right away, it will drift,” he said. “When I have something I want to say, I need to have a record of it even if I never use it. That saves me an enormous amount of time because sometimes you get an idea right the first time.”
Old Heart will be presented at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 14, and 4 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at the Redford Theatre, 17360 Lahser, Detroit. $25, $50, $75 (with dessert meet-and-greet). (313) 462-9721. redfordtheatre.com. rogerrapoport.com.