Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys is a look at the end of a career for a performer and what it means to him and his family. Willie (Ron Frederickson) has lived in denial about the end of his career ever since his partner, Al (Andrew Maizner), walked off their act decades before the play starts. Willie is bitter toward Al and his decision, but CBS wants to include them in a “History of Comedy” retrospective and reunite them for a single sketch. Willie refuses, but his nephew (and agent), Ben (Jeremy W. Chase), persuades him to go along with it. Al arrives and the results are hilarious as two stubborn old actors try to work together despite decades of bitterness.
So there’s the story, and because it’s Neil Simon we don’t get a big moment of revelation and deep introspection from either of the two characters. We never get to find out Al’s side of the story as to why he walked off the act, only Willie’s interpretation of the events. We don’t really get a solid closure. But that’s just the way Neil Simon writes his plays, and what we do get is two hours of solid comedy, delivered beautifully by Frederickson and Maizner, as well as a quick course on what is funny and what makes comedy work.
Standing out among this small, but solid, cast (brought together by Director Lane Richins) are Frederickson and Maizner as the great vaudevillians. Really, the show is about these two and they do not disappoint. Every moment could be studied in a “what works in comedy” class. It was truly wonderful when the two are together on stage. Alone, with Ben or another character, they’re playing off a straight man –whose job is to be exasperated by their antics– but together they are comedy gold. Yes, part of that is thanks to Simon’s script, but the lion’s share of the credit go to the talents of these two men.
Antonia Horne is a delightful find in her Pinnacle debut. She plays the nurses and also has a role between the scenes holding up cue cards. Her first nurse is a comedic role for the sketch, playing the shapely nurse that Willie ogles for laughs. Her second nurse is a real nurse, looking after Willie in the final act. The second nurse was written for an African-American woman, but Horne is able to pull off the right amount of attitude to make the character work. Even her card-girl role was delightful and always made me smile.
The Sunshine Boys performs November 3-5, 10-12, and 17-19 at the Midvale Performing Arts Center, 695 W. Center Street. (7720 S.) Midvale. For details, go to http://www.pinnacleactingcompany.org