The Placer Performance Calendar

 

Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title The Sunshine Boys
Organization Sutter Street Theatre
Date(s) of show July 18-August 16, 2015
Reviewer Gerry Camp
Review In every season Sutter Street Theatre features a couple of plays that are joint productions with a company called Give Us a Hand Productions. These plays spring from the theatrical genius of Janelle Kauffman, who directs, and her husband Stephen, who plays the lead or a prominent featured role. The plays produced by the Kauffmans include comedies and dramas and are always polished, top-quality theatre with excellent casts and attention paid to every detail.

The play that opened this week is Neil Simonís 1972 comedy The Sunshine Boys. It is about two retired vaudevillians, Willie Clark (Kauffman) and Al Lewis (Daryl Petrig), who worked together for forty years as the comedy team Lewis and Clark, but have not seen each other for eleven years. Al decided to retire from show business and Willie has never forgiven him. Asked to reprise their best known sketch for a CBS television history of comedy, the two reunite, hilariously bickering and bringing back old grudges, but revealing, finally, an enduring affection.

Neil Simon fans will recall the 1975 film of this play, which starred Walter Matthau and George Burns, winning Matthau an Oscar nomination as best actor and Burns the Academy Award as best supporting actor. Iím delighted to report that, for a wonderful evening of theatre, Kauffman and Petrig will make you forget Matthau and Burns. Having recently seen the film, I was always aware that I was seeing star turns by Matthau and Burns. They never completely, for me, became Lewis and Clark. While watching the Sutter Street version I believed fully in the characters from their opening lines.

I have seen Stephen Kauffman in five roles including this one, and he is one of those actors who disappear into whatever part he plays. I donít think he has worked with Petrig previously, yet their performances merge so seamlessly that I had no doubt these two old men had spent their working lives together. They play off each other, in both the rehearsal scene and the comedy routine at the television studio, as two performers who know each other so well their reactions are spontaneous but completely believable. And of course their zingers are vintage Neil Simon jokes.

As with all the Kauffman shows, the supporting cast lives up to the performances of the leads. Ross Branch plays Willieís agent, who is also his nephew, with perfect exasperation at his inability to get Willie to do what he sees as best for the grouchy old man. Alicia Taylor is perfect as the dumb blonde actress in the sketch, playing a nurse whose only qualification is her cleavage. In sharp contrast, Cheryl Dubose Petrig as the real nurse who takes care of Willie in a brief scene is all professional, trading one-liners with the comedian with a straight face. Kate Muris and Ryan Taylor fill small roles effectively.

In sum, the production of The Sunshine Boys by Sutter Street Theatre and Stephen and Janelle Kauffman, playing through August 16, is another not-to-be-missed evening or afternoon of theatre offered by this outstanding continuing partnership.

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