Franz Altman is making his last stand. Which is to be expected, because when a man is 90 years old there probably aren’t too many stands left for him to take. Or the energy to take them.
But then, Franz Altman is a unique 90-year old. As portrayed by Michael Laskin, he rambles on at the Zephyr Theatre for 90 minutes, supposedly telling his life story to a reporter from People magazine, a Miss Carmichael (whom he initially misidentifies as Miss Carbuncle).
The play is “Altman’s Last Stand” and it is having its American premiere after winning a Fringe First award for Laskin at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and a subsequent run at the Roundhouse Theatre in London.
Laskin, a sturdily built, impeccably articulate actor, plays the Viennese-born Altman, speaking with a classy middle-European accent from his second-hand curio shop, King Solomon’s Treasure, in New York. And it is this shop that triggers his latest crisis and provokes his “Last Stand.” For he is determined to maintain his shop in defiance of the developers who have bought the properties around him with the intention of erecting a high-rise apartment building on the site.
Altman will not sell, and it is his obstinate refusal that makes him a “celebrity.” He is interviewed by Morley Safer on “60 Minutes,” which precipitates all kinds of responses, including marriage proposals and invitations from all three major networks to host his own talk show.
Yet, despite the constant interruptions of the telephone, he manages to tell his story, beginning with his psychoanalysis at the age of seven by Sigmund Freud.
He notes that the American Constitution promises the “pursuit” of happiness, but doesn’t guarantee its attainment, and as a confirmed atheist he reveals his personal Trinity: faith, fortune and romance.
Though he notes that wars result from religious disagreements, he acknowledges that “benign altruism” drove him to Israel in 1947 to fight as a member of the fierce Stern gang.
But before that, he spent the European war years in three different concentration camps: Teresienstadt, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. “My thirst for justice kept me alive,” he says. Years later, however, when he is confronted by an event manager who demands to know why he is not wearing his nametag, he points to his forearm and declares that he does not wear a nametag because his “identity” is always with him.
Charles Dennis has scripted a fascinating one-man monologue, and thanks to Charles Haid’s robust direction, your interest in Altman and his story never wavers. And the cluttered shop designed by set and projections designer Yee Eun Nam is enhanced by background projections that illustrate the various topics that Altman embarks upon.
But it is to Michael Laskin’s immense credit that he can so effectively pull off this challenging solitary role. It’s the masterful equivalent to what they used to say about Ginger Rogers when she danced with Fred Astaire: she not only danced, but she did it backwards and in high heels.
“Altman’s Last Stand” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through March 13 at the Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave. in Los Angeles. Call (323) 960-4412 for reservations or visit www.plays411.com/altman.