The Sunshine Boys Review
A laughter workout.By Kathie Raleigh, Woonsocket Call
“The Sunshine Boys” is about two old pros from the vaudeville circuit, and two contemporary pros are bringing them hilariously to life in the production of Neil Simon’s comedy now at 2nd Story Theatre.
Bob Colonna plays Willie Clark, F. William Oakes is Al Lewis, and the combination is as comically potent as the fictional duo they play, Lewis and Clark. The pair, along with a great supporting cast, whiz through this 90-minute production of one-liners and set-up jokes that is a laughter workout.
The characters of Lewis and Clark were billed as the Sunshine Boys on the vaudeville circuit where an illustrious 43-year career belied their off-stage animosity. When Lewis abruptly retired, however, Clark not only lost his partner but also his career, and he’s still incensed.
Eleven years later, a time spent without speaking to one another, the men are invited by CBS to appear in a comedy retrospective. Grudgingly, they get together to rehearse one of their most popular skits, but old resentments resurface – something the audience can see coming and which only makes the payoff even funnier. A turn of events leads to a resolution of sorts, and more laughter.
Colonna steals the show as the curmudgeonly Clark with a deadpan delivery that adds polish to Simon’s one-liners. As the somewhat better adjusted Lewis, Oakes mines the humor in cluelessness about what irritates his former partner; but when provoked, he’s irascible.
As funny as they are in this “real” life, when these guys rehearse their skit, it’s actually a hoot. What gives the story its heart, however, is the admiration that underlies the feuding; it’s largely unspoken, but amidst all the jokes, the actors let us know it’s there.
The supporting cast adds three more targets for Simon’s jokes and Colonna’s talent. Nicholas Thibeault plays Ben, the long-suffering caregiver and agent for his Uncle Willie. Susan Bowen Powers is the spitfire nurse who matches acerbic wit with her patient, Clark; and Lauren Ustaszewski has all the right moves as the well-endowed nurse ogled by the Sunshine Boys in their skit. Again, applause to the cast and director Ed Shea for making the silly skit a highlight of an already funny show.
There still are loads of laughs in this comedy, which debuted in 1972, meaning it’s lasted one more year than the Sunshine Boys’ vaudeville career. A production as good as 2nd Story’s is giving it new life.