The sun shines brightly on Walnut Street

By defaultuser
February 1, 2001

by Chris Vesci
staff writer

Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, showing at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia through March 4, is a play that reunites two aging Vaudeville superstars. Set in the 1970s and later adapted into a successful motion picture, the Walnut’s production, though at times weary and slow-moving, is blessed with an effective and likable cast.

The play opens in the cluttered apartment of the aging Willie Clark, former member of Lewis and Clark, the great Vaudeville duo. Willie, slowly dipping into senility, is frequently visited by his nephew, Ben. While Willie hopes that Ben will bring acting opportunities (Ben complains that his uncle treats him like an agent and not a nephew), Ben seems much more concerned with his uncle’s health. That is, until Ben has the idea of reuniting Willie with his former Vaudeville pal, Al Lewis, for a CBS special. Willie is instantly disgusted by the idea, since Al retired 11 years ago from their act without Willie’s consent. Also, Al has two habits that really irk Willie. First, he pokes Willie in the chest to stress his points. And furthermore, he spits showers whenever he speaks.

However, a visit by Al convinces Willie to do the special. That is, until petty squabbles and those pet peeves cause rehearsals of the duet’s famous “doctor scene” to fall apart. Soon, in the face of failing health and their own self-destruction, the duo must find a means of reconciliation.

For the most part, Simon’s play is consistently funny, though some areas seem drawn out and a few running gags are a bit overplayed. (Willie continually has trouble opening his front door. It looses any trace of humor the second time.) There is not much depth to the issues at hand and the play would probably benefit from a bit more action or antics between the aging icons. There is a hilarious scene where Willie chases Al around a table with a knife, threatening to cut off his finger so it can no longer poke him. It would be nice to see more of this sort of hysteria.

A clever ending and a great cast secure the night. As Willie and Al, Irwin Charone and Michael Marcus have great chemistry. They are believable, funny and energetic, yet they manage to maintain the tired-old-man demeanor quite well. As the busty nurse in their Vaudeville doctor skit, Anne Connors is a welcome diversion and would give any feminist nightmares for weeks. Frank Ferrante is fine as Willie’s nephew, annoying at some points, caring at others. (Ferrante also directs the play.) Finally, Joilet F. Harris is another welcome addition as Willie’s feisty real nurse. (It is funny to contrast her performance with that of the Vaudevillian blonde nurse.)

These talented performers have an intricate set to romp on; it recalls the `70s quite well. The designers must have scoured every second-hand store in the tri-state area.

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