2nd Story Theatre's terrific production of "The Sunshine Boys"...makes for a winning combination of Simon's trademark wit and two superb performances from acting powerhouses Bob Colonna and F. William Oakes.by Christopher Verleger, EDGE
Like him or not, there’s no denying that the illustrious and oft-produced playwright Neil Simon always had a knack for making light of unfortunate situations.
2nd Story Theatre’s terrific production of “The Sunshine Boys,” which examines the trials and tribulations of show business careers, friendship and old age, makes for a winning combination of Simon’s trademark wit and two superb performances from acting powerhouses Bob Colonna and F. William Oakes.
Under Ed Shea’s keen direction, Colonna and Oakes respectively play old codgers Willie and Al, former friends and each half of the renowned comedy duo, Clark and Lewis, who made their mark during vaudeville’s heyday. Unfortunately, the two unceremoniously parted ways and haven’t spoken in more than a decade.
The always charming Nicholas Thibeault plays Ben, Willie’s nephew, caretaker and agent, who learns about an upcoming comedy retrospective on CBS and proposes a Lewis and Clark reunion. Still holding a grudge, curmudgeon Willie initially balks at the idea, but eventually surrenders by agreeing to meet with his former stage counterpart. No sooner after Al arrives does their seemingly cordial rapport erupt into a heated yet mostly hilarious shout-fest.
Running rehearsal gags include Willie’s refusal to say “Come in” rather than “Enter”– much to Al’s chagrin every time he knocks, as well as Al’s ‘spitting’ pronunciation of certain consonants or when he pokes Willie in the chest with his index finger.
I often hear the argument in theater circles that Simon’s material is too dated for today’s audiences, but I strongly disagree. Perhaps “era-specific” is more appropriate, considering this play was written in 1972 and the two leads were entertainers at least four decades prior. Nevertheless, even if the sparring and slapstick is too corny for your taste, Colonna and Oakes’ sterling performances are equivalent to that of a master class and far outweigh any of the script’s shortcomings.
Willie and Al attempt to recreate their famed doctor visit sketch for the studio, complete with a nurse who is all body and no brains (astutely portrayed by Lauren Ustaszewski). The outcome is not only disastrous but dangerous, and as a result requires the services of an actual nurse (Susan Bowen Powers, passionately indifferent).
It’s no coincidence that Neil Simon has stood the test of time and “The Sunshine Boys” reminds us why audiences, theaters and actors revel in his work.