New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"Sunshine Boys"
Downtown Cabaret, Bridgeport

Downtown Cabaret is in deep financial difficulties, struggling to stay afloat. Needing all the help it can get from friends and patrons of the arts, Cabaret is fortunate to have a gift from The Villa Roma Productions. That gift is the Villa Roma production of “Sunshine Boys”—a gift which will hopefully beef up Downtown’s Campaign Cabaret, bringing much-needed revenue into the coffers.

It is strange to see a straight play on the Downtown stage, noted strictly for musicals over the years. But if “Sunshine Boys” can help save Downtown Cabaret, so be it. And how can any one go wrong with Neil Simon’s old war horse, “Sunshine Boys”? Granted that the humor surrounding two old-time vaudevillians is very dated, and may have its strongest appeal for an older generation who recognizes Jewish Borsht-belt humor. But Simon is such a pro that even after these many years and many showings, “Sunshine Boys” works quite well. Simon keeps the wise cracks coming non-stop. Moreover, this “Sunshine Boys” has another pro on the scene—namely, Richard Sabellico who has ably directed many a Downtown Cabaret show.

The premise itself is funny. The one-time team of Lewis and Clark (Al Lewis and Willy Clark) are now long retired from the vaudeville circuit, the gentle Lewis living with his daughter in New Jersey and the curmudgeonly Clark struggling to survive in a Manhattan walk-up. Fortunately, Clark’s nephew arrives each Wednesday with canned soups, cigars, and a copy of “Variety.” But Clark shows little appreciation, demanding only that his nephew, an agent, keep him supplied with “bookings.”

When Ben, the nephew, finally arranges an appearance on TV for the former team, Clark will have none of it. He fell out long ago with his erstwhile partner, presumably because Lewis spit in Clark’s face when he talked and jabbed a finger into his chest. But Ben insists, saying that they must put on their famed act, “The doctor will see you now.”

Thus the plot. As to this particular production, there is only one aspect that makes it a stand-out: actor David Rogers, who gives such an endearing performance as one of the old-timers. Like most of Neil Simon’s characters, this vaudevillian could be played on the surface. But Rogers gives such depth and humanity to the Al Lewis character that he reaches into our hearts. One understands, in this performance, what the aging process means. Martin Passante as Willy is less satisfying, but his scenes with Rogers, when they play off each other, are good fun. Richard Bell gives solid back-up as the harassed, good-hearted nephew, and his scenes with Passante work well. But a major disappointment is the doctor scene, when Lewis and Clark finally re-appear on television. This scene should move rapid-fire, with never a moment to examine one joke before the next one is upon us. Unfortunately, it lags.

Yet, Simon is Simon, and if one relaxes and goes with the flow, it is mostly an evening of fun. Just take over a table, stock it well with wine and food, and surround it with friends.

-- Irene Backalenick
August 21, 2005

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