"The Sunshine Boys" by Neil Simon
January 20, 2013 at 3:00 P.M.
Neil Simon is one of the best known, celebrated playwrights of our time; and once again his sharp, skillfully written dialogue shines in the Carrolwood Players latest production of "The Sunshine Boys".
The Sunshine Boys" opened on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre in 1972, directed by Alan Arkin. The original cast starred Sam Levene as Al Lewis and Jack Albertson as Willie Clark. In 1975, the film version starred George Burns as Al Lewis and Walter Matthau as Willie Clark.
The Carrollwood Players, Tampa's oldest community theatre company, is presenting the ambitious, 2 act comedy through January 26th.
The story focuses on the forty-three year relationship of Al Lewis (Victor Carr) and Willie Clark (Rick Kastel), the old time vaudeville team of "Lewis and Clark". Through the course of their working years together, not only did they begin to hate each other, but in the final year, they didn't even speak to each other on or off stage.
The action takes place in New York City in the mid 1980's, in Willie Clark's vintage hotel suite, when CBS Television reunites the team for a special presentation on the History of Comedy, highlighting their Best of Vaudeville routines. There are lots of one line zingers, reminiscent of the old "Borscht Belt" / "Catskills", humor so many of us "adult", North East transplants remember.
Director Tiffany Sneden assembled a great cast for this Neil Simon classic.What a coo to find two, local, mature actors, (as a "labor of love"), to fill these enormous leading roles. I had to remind myself that this cast is all volunteers. And to that alone, I say, "Bravo!"
Rick Kastel does an admirable portrayal as Willie Clark, the long time, suffering, and "kvetching", out of work actor. His Mel Brooks type mannerisms and dry Rodney Dangerfield, line delivery, provokes laughter at every turn. He has his comedic timing down pat.
Victor Carr as Al Lewis, the "retired" half of the former vaudevillian team, is the perfect foil for Kastel. Neil Simon's dialogue really "takes off" with Lewis and Clark's first meeting. Carr continuously tickles the audience with his comedic pauses and stares during the "Tea" scene, meticulously staged by director Tiffany Sneden.
Mandy Fields is wonderful, as Jen Silverman, the down to business, matter of fact, yet devoted niece and theatrical agent to Willie Clark. Ms. Fields plays the young side of the generation gap with sincere honesty and aplomb. Her scenes with Kastel are perfectly timed. Although she is the "straight man" for Kastel's punch lines, Ms. Fields manages to get her own laughs as well. In addition, she also plays the "sexy nurse" in the vaudeville sketch opposite Kastel, to the delight of the audience.
Elle Simmons was outstanding in a cameo role as Clark's Registered Nurse. Her stiff, no nonsense, non stop chocolate eating characterization, provided a great counterpart to the "woe is me", Kastel. And in turn she got laughs. Lots of them.
There were other notable performances by Adam Seacord as Phil, Philip Schene as Eddie, and Jae Welch as the patient.
The unit set and vintage properties, added a true to life depiction of an old New York City hotel suite, complete with an old steam heat radiator, dial up telephone, and window view... of other buildings. The Lighting Design by Keith Postle was natural and effective. Each word and musical interlude was heard clearly by Sound Designer Vanessa Marie Baez. The costumes by Chris Dietz and James Cass were appropriately vintage.
The highlight of this production was during the "dress rehearsal" performance scene, when Kastel and Carr are re-creating their old time vaudeville routine. Both actors are having "over the top" fun with their characters with one-liners flying all over the place. The audience roared with laughter as Kastel cavorted across the stage with the assistance of a very, sexy nurse, (also played by Mandy Fields). Kastel, Carr, and Fields prove that when done well, these old "suggestive" vaudeville routines still work and by all the laughter and applause, the audience agreed.