Saturday, October 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Sunshine Boys--a Bright Delight at Serendipity Playhouse

Willy Clark (Randy Swerdlick) threatens Al Lewis (Boyd Kelly)
in Neil Simon's"The Sunshine Boys." Photo by Ruth Zschomler.

Vaudeville was the Father, and Mother, of many of our showbiz styles and genres today:  Stand-up comedy, skits, improv, musical acts, sit-coms, etc. It was also the birthing place for playwrights, like Neil Simon, who are great writers of gags and one-liners.

But, jumping several years into the future, those grand clowns are almost completely forgotten. Enter the world of The Sunshine Boys, in the guise of a comedy act from that era called Lewis & Clark (images, perhaps, of Laurel & Hardy, Olsen & Johnson or Abbott & Costello).

The Set-up

These “boys” spent over forty years playing the circuits, but are now “retired.” Willy (Randy Swerdlick) is a bitter old man, living alone, not accepting retirement gracefully, having been forced into it when his partner, Al (Boyd Kelly), quit the act some dozen years before. They haven’t spoken since.

Willy’s only contact with the outside world is his hyper, nephew/agent, Ben (Tory Mitchell). Their relationship is (to be nice) guarded. Willy seems to gain real pleasure in needling his nephew, whose only flaw seems to be not knowing he’s playing straight man to a great comic.

Willy (Swerdlick) does some examining of Nurse McIntosh
(Cecelia Harper) in the Dr. sketch. Photo by Ruth Zschomler.
Into this stage of life comes the opportunity to reunite with his old partner for a swan song:  A television revival of some of the old vaudeville acts and comics.  But that means opening old wounds. Al will do it because he has great affection, albeit hidden, for Willy. Willy will do it because he needs the money, but there was never really any joy in it for him. It was just a job. “If I was there to enjoy it, I’d have bought a ticket!”

Like life, nothing is completely resolved but new paths are opened up, different possibilities discovered. With Simon’s script, we are permitted to visit a different era briefly. Although, there are so many one-liners, the real story gets lost at times,  the actors and directors (Tony Broom & Joni Moore) have managed to keep the flow moving swiftly and the characters clearly defined.

For the Doctor’s skit [which the comics do in the second scene of act two] the props could have been larger and more exaggerated, as well as the actors’ actions, makeup and costumes (except for the nurse). They looked too realistic and, from the little I’ve seen from Lucy, Uncle Miltie, Ed Wynn, etc. they were much larger than life in their portrayals and skits.

The Punch Line

Randy Swerdlick as Willy
The three main actors are absolutely super. Mr. Swerdlick, as Clark (a cross between Ed Wynn and Stubby Kaye in looks) handles the role with a real understanding of the character and the era. Even better is Mr. Kelly as Lewis; his long face, pained expressions, nice use of pauses and comic timing are perfect. A real gem of a performance! And Mr. Mitchell as the nephew/agent is “Mr. Hyper” to the extreme. He must have inexhaustible energy and keeps the play moving quickly forward.

I recommend this show as bit of theatre lore, captured, like fireflies in a bottle, to be viewed once more before it fades forever from view.

Boyd Kelly as Al
The Sunshine Boys, by Neil Simon, is playing at the Serendipity Playhouse in downtown Vancouver through October 21. See their website for show dates and times. Go to their website for more information on them and the show or call 360-834-3588 for reservations (best get them while you can, as they were almost sold out opening night, and the theatre only has about 40 seats.)

Another recommendation, take the offered pillows as the seats are hard. Enjoy!

WARNING: There are several uses of profanity.

Review by Dennis Sparks. Mr. Sparks was formerly a Portland theatre reviewer for the Vancouver Voice (now defunct), and is currently a free-lance reporter with his own blog site for Portland and Ashland theatre reviews:

Photos by Ruth Zschomler for SWWASTAR. 

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