HomeBensalem Times‘The Sunshine Boys’ is on stage at Bristol Riverside through March 31

‘The Sunshine Boys’ is on stage at Bristol Riverside through March 31

Neil Simon’s comedy follows vaudeville duo Willie Clark and Al Lewis when they reunite after a decade for one final show

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Allen Lewis Rickman as Al Lewis and Carl Wallnau as Willie Clark. Source: Mark Garvin

It’s a battle of, well, basically everything when famous vaudeville duo Willie Clark and Al Lewis are asked to perform a major show after nearly a decade of bitter, radio silence. The friends-turned-strangers are like night and day — while Willie dons a sport jacket over his pajamas and has an innate hated of New Jersey, Al will never be spotted without his tailored suit, and has become something of a suburban snob.

The two cannot agree on a single thing, and audiences of Bristol Riverside Theatre’s current mainstage production, The Sunshine Boys, will subconsciously find themselves rooting for one or the other.

Nein Simon’s comedy is on stage through March 31, and stars Carl Wallnau (Triumph of Love) as Willie, and BRT newcomer Allen Lewis Rickman (Broadway’s Relatively Speaking) as Al.

The play commences by dropping theater-goers into the miniscule, cluttered New York apartment of Willie. Instantly, Wallnau makes multiple traits about his character clear. Willie is cranky, easily-agitated, and, according to his mismatched pajama-robe-hat-scarf ensemble, not exactly in the spotlight anymore.

Still, rather than portray a typical mean old man, Wallnau infuses a strong sense of comedy into the role, doing a dainty tip toe around slippers strewn on the floor, and refusing to pull, rather than push, the lock on the door to let in his nephew, Ben Silverman.

Willie’s last living relative, played by Jason Silverman (Laughter on the 23rd Floor), is a struggling Hollywood agent who wants to reunite his uncle and Al for a one-time variety show on CBS. He plays extremely well off of Wallnau, portraying a sort of weaselly yet ambitious character who’s desperate for his big break in the industry, and for the higher-ups to take him seriously.

At first, Willie refuses, chronicling to Ben the 43 years of annoyance he endured from his comedy partner. Every performance, not only would Al incessantly poke Willie in the chest with “the finger,” he would spray spit with each “T” word.

“Some nights, I thought I’d drown,” Willie says.

But after learning about the fat $10,000 paycheck CBS would grant them, he obliges. At the suggestion of Ben, Al, driven by his daughter, comes to Willie’s apartment for rehearsal of the legendary “Doctor Skit.” Throughout the majority of this reunion, a number of audience members could be found dabbing away tears of laughter.

Everything about this scene is hilarious and perfectly-timed. For starters, there’s Rickman’s quiet but powerfully funny delivery as he takes his precious time removing his scarf and coat…as Wallnau stands behind him poised to smack him with a meat cleaver. Then, there’s the confusion over whether Willie should start the skit with “come in” like old times, or a booming “enter!,” his own improvisation. The scene is chock-full of screaming, yelling and flat out immaturity, and the two actors couldn’t have done a better job.

In the latter half of The Sunshine Boys, the audience has the pleasure of viewing (most of) the infamous “Doctor Skit” during a CBS dress rehearsal. Nicole Benoit (The Producers) makes a brief appearance as a beautiful, blonde nurse, who Willie’s doctor character has set his inappropriate sights on. The sketch, which features Al as a tax collector, is packed with dumb humor that will incite at least a few chuckles.

Quickly though, the comedians revert back to their usual ways, throwing what can only be described as old-man-temper-tantrums over the battle of “come in” versus “enter.” The fighting and stress prove to be too much for Willie, who collapses from a heart attack.

Always a go-getter and workaholic, Willie is forced to stay in bed for weeks, and is taken care of by a registered nurse, played by Demetria Joyce Bailey (Gypsy). Though her role is brief, Bailey’s tell-it-like-it-is, sarcastic persona is arguably the funniest in the production. She consistently one-ups Willie’s taunting, snarky comments and freely helps herself to his box of chocolates.

As if watching the devourment of his precious candy wasn’t enough pain, Willie is left to face a visit by none other than Al. Without ruining the ending, it can be said that both men are brought down a few pegs. They’ve received a rude awakening about mortality, and learned it simply doesn’t pay to waste away life being miserable.

Overall, The Sunshine Boys is a charming production that forces audiences to leave BRT feeling a sense of hope. Even the most curmudgeonly people, especially those who long to whack someone in the head with a meat cleaver, can turn things around.

Performances of The Sunshine Boys run Tuesday through Sunday until March 31. Tickets start at $33 with discounts for students, groups and military personnel. Tickets are available by visiting brtstage.org or calling the box office at 215–785–0100. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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