The best thing about Neil Simon’s “The Sunshine Boys” is the opportunity it creates to display the talents of actors of a certain age. In the case of The Players Theatre’s current production, the talents of Bob Trisolini and Dan Higgs gratify the audience.
A mix of homage to and satire of the Vaudevillian teams of an iconic era of American comedy, the play first premiered on Broadway in 1972. The real life teams of Smith and Dale and Gallagher and Shean are rumored to have inspired Simon. The plot focuses on aging Al Lewis (Higgs) and Willie Clark (Trisolini) who, out of resentment, haven’t spoken to each other in the forty years since the blowup of their once successful career in showbiz. The plot twists when Clark’s nephew Ben Silverman, nicely played by Kerry Betts, gets them the opportunity to reunite for a special on the history of comedy at CBS. The humor is based on bringing these two curmudgeonly characters together again for the rehearsal and broadcast.
Neil Simon has written a great number of classic comedies, but this one has not aged as well as the actors, who manage to make the characters interesting and the story gently amusing. The script itself has become an extended cliche, including a buxom nurse hired solely for her sex appeal, beautifully caricatured by Alison Dietz. Also entertaining are the performances of Leona Collesano as a real Nurse; Randy Garmer as Patient; Bob Nosal as Eddie; and Robert Turoff as Voice in the Booth. Director Roberta MacDonald does a good job of moving this old dog, but stops short of the physical comedy that it needs to make it wag its tail. Act two, which includes a somewhat redeeming denouement involving an Old Actors Home in New Jersey, is far better than the first, which boasts the quip, “My blood circulates — I’m not saying everywhere — but it circulates.”
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