‘The Sun­shine Boys’ still shines in 2017

Stage Door pro­duc­tion cranks out the laughs in Neil Si­mon clas­sic

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - ON STAGE - By Chris­tine Dolen

When Jerry Lewis passed away Aug. 20, the com­pli­cated ac­tor­film­maker-co­me­dian was hailed as the “King of Com­edy” in many of the sto­ries about his life and work.

But an­other man could just as eas­ily claim that crown: play­wright and screen­writer Neil Si­mon, born 90 years ago on the Fourth of July.

The author of nearly three dozen plays and al­most as many screen­plays, Si­mon has a Broad­way theater named for him, a Pulitzer Prize, three Tony Awards and, in a ca­reer span­ning six decades, more com­bined Tony and Os­car nom­i­na­tions than any other writer.

Over time, crit­ics and au­di­ences came to ap­pre­ci­ate Si­mon’s abil­ity to in­fuse even ri­otously funny work with a con­sid­er­a­tion of more se­ri­ous themes: al­co­holism, di­vorce, ag­ing and more. His 1972 play “The Sun­shine Boys,” run­ning at Stage Door The­atre in Mar­gate through Sept. 24, demon­strates Si­mon’s crafts­man­ship in scor­ing big laughs while con­vey­ing an un­der­ly­ing melan­choly.

Staged by Michael Leeds with heart and deft comedic flour­ishes, “The Sun­shine Boys” tells the story of the once-great com­edy duo Al Lewis (Peter Li­brach) and Wil­lie Clark (Michael H. Small). Dat­ing to the vaude­ville era, the team sur­vived into the age of TV va­ri­ety shows — un­til one day, abruptly, Al in­formed Wil­lie that he was re­tir­ing. In the 11 years since, the two haven’t spo­ken, with Wil­lie strug­gling to find work as an ac­tor.

Then, his nephew-agent Ben Silverman (Ben San­domir) stops by Wil­lie’s clut­tered old ho­tel room with his weekly de­liv­ery of gro­ceries, for­bid­den cigars and the show-biz paper Va­ri­ety. This time, though, Ben has also brought an op­por­tu­nity: Wil­lie can ap­pear on a big TV spe­cial cel­e­brat­ing the golden age of com­edy. The catch? He has to per­form a clas­sic Lewis and Clark sketch with his for­mer part­ner.

Wil­lie, a mas­ter at the not-so­sub­tle art of kvetch­ing, won’t hear of it. He com­plains that Al would de­lib­er­ately spit in his face, choos­ing words start­ing with “T” (the bet­ter to spray him with), and that he would poke Wil­lie so hard with his finger that he’d leave bruises on Wil­lie’s chest.

But Ben knows that for Wil­lie, with his fad­ing mem­ory, health is­sues and dwin­dling re­sources, the TVgig rep­re­sents a last chance for a re­turn to the lime­light. So Ben pushes his stub­born un­cle, and even­tu­ally we get a taste of the old Lewis and Clark magic — first hi­lar­i­ously, then dis­as­trously.

Di­rec­tor Leeds has the ideal Wil­lie in Small, who ex­pertly con­veys the ag­ing co­me­dian’s can­tan­ker­ous­ness, lik­a­bil­ity and fears. He and the lower-key Li­brach con­fi­dently ride the rhythms of Si­mon’s di­a­logue, evok­ing vaude­ville, TV sketch com­edy and, yes, vin­tage Neil Si­mon. San­domir gives a lovely per­for­mance as the

“The Sun­shine Boys”

Where: Stage Door The­atre, 8036 W. Sam­ple Road, in Mar­gate. When: Through Sept. 24. Show­times are 8 p.m. Fri­day-Satur­day, 2 p.m. Wed­nes­day and Satur­day-Sun­day. Cost: Tick­ets cost $48. Con­tact: warm, of­ten-ex­as­per­ated Ben, and as his con­tor­tions dur­ing a phone call demon­strate, he more than holds his own when it comes to phys­i­cal com­edy.

The lead trio get able sup­port from ac­tors in much smaller roles: Eli­jah Pear­son-Martinez as the ner­vous TV as­sis­tant di­rec­tor Ed­die, Ge­orge Schi­avone as the pa­tient in Lewis and Clark’s sketch, Jea­nine Gan­gloff as the eye-candy nurse in the sketch, Vicki Klein as a real nurse who’s ev­ery bit as testy as Wil­lie.

Set de­signer Michael McClain and prop de­signer Larry Bau­man have cre­ated a claus­tro­pho­bic, old-fash­ioned, poster-be­decked do­main for Wil­lie. Light­ing de­signer Ardean Land­huis gets the murk­i­ness of Wil­lie’s digs and the bright lights of the TV world just right, and Paul O’Don­nell adds to the com­edy with a few de­lib­er­ately late sound ef­fects. Cos­tume de­signer Jerry Stur­de­fant gets the pe­riod right, but his one big miss is the point­edly sexy nurse out­fit for Gan­gloff: It doesn’t fit her right.

Although “The Sun­shine Boys” doesn’t quite rise to the level of Si­mon gems such as “The Odd Cou­ple” or his late-ca­reer “Brighton Beach” tril­ogy, its con­sid­er­a­tion of the prob­lems that come with ag­ing is poignant and all too true. Tem­per­ing those truths with laugh­ter is, as many in the Stage Door au­di­ence know first­hand, a good thing.

GE­ORGE WENT­ZLER/COUR­TESY

Michael H. Small plays the doc­tor to Ge­orge Schi­avone's pa­tient. Neil Si­mon wrote the play in 1972. StageDoorFl.org.

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