Franz Altman, the fictional New York City junk-shop proprietor in Charles Dennis’ play “Altman’s Last Stand” now at Zephyr Theatre, may be 90 years old, but he’s in no hurry to retire. In fact, he’s recently become a celebrity, interviewed on “60 Minutes” for refusing to sell his store, King Solomon’s Treasure, to high-rise developers.
Now a reporter from People magazine, a Miss Carmichael, has come to hear Altman’s life story, which he is eager to recount, despite frequent interruptions from his ringing phone as he schemes against the unscrupulous developers.
Because this is a one-man show, the audience is obliged to stand in for Miss Carmichael, possibly the most passive and reticent reporter in the history of journalism. This setup may feel a bit gimmicky, but at least we don’t have to memorize any lines to play our role. We merely have to sit still and permit Michael Laskin’s Altman, an irreverent old macher with an irresistible twinkle, to charm us.
Altman grew up to survive both world wars as well as several concentration camps — “My thirst for justice kept me alive,” he somewhat vaguely explains — then moved to Israel, where he fell in with Yitzhak Shamir and the Stern gang. He lived in Chicago, Buenos Aires and finally Manhattan, where now, in 1990, in his cozy shop surrounded by prized mementos, he stages his plucky last stand and sums up his many adventures.
But under the sensitive direction of Charles Haid, Laskin’s playful, wise, winning Altman shines through the manipulations of the script; it’s a pleasure to spend time with this obdurate, lovable character, even if he’s a little too good to be true.
“Altman’s Last Stand,” Zephyr Theatre, 7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 13. $25. Tickets: (323) 960-4412 or www.plays411.com/altman. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.