Reviewed by Lia Tremblay
The Sunshine Boys is the story of two aging vaudevillians, reluctantly reviving their act after more than a decade of stony silence. You might think a play that debuted in the seventies (and even then was full of references to decades-earlier pop culture) would fail to connect with present-day audiences—but the magic of playwright Neil Simon ensures that it does.
The beauty of Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s production is picture-perfect casting. John Hagadorn plays the curmudgeonly Willie Clark, who spends days on end in a grubby New York apartment, reading “Variety” for the obituaries and nursing a long-held grudge against the man he performed with for 43 years. Steve King plays Al Lewis, the object of Willie’s ire, who has settled into a quiet, contented life in New Jersey until contacted about a potential reunion. Dan Stackhouse is Ben, Willie’s nephew and manager, who must overcome his uncle’s crabby stubbornness just to get the men into the same room again.
Hagadorn’s performance is side-splitting, with flawless delivery of some of the show’s funnier lines. His character’s blustery irritation, with everything from sodium-free soup to poor TV reception, boils over hilariously with the aid of Hagadorn’s perfect timing and expressive face.
King is an ideal counterpart, playing the quieter character who nevertheless knows just how to push his partner’s buttons. When the two are reluctantly rehearsing the act they swore they’d never do again, King beautifully transforms his character from the meek retiree to the reborn vaudevillian.
And Stackhouse is remarkably good as the man who must coordinate their reunion while carefully handling their explosive relationship. His character’s frustration with a difficult man, for whom he must serve as grocery-fetching nephew and job-negotiating manager, is wonderfully illuminated with a mix of love and exasperation that cannot be easy to portray.
Also memorable in the production is Georgia Rogers Farmer as the nurse in the men’s resuscitated comedy routine. She is suitably over-the-top, with all the squeaks and wiggles one might expect of the stock “hello, nurse” character from a vaudeville act.
A few small scenic details stood out as fixable: modern-day groceries in what was to be a seventies kitchen, a window that showed only darkness when the action was meant to be occurring in the afternoon. But none of this threatened the overall quality of the show, which was delightful from beginning to end. Audience members of all ages were throwing their heads back with laughter, hungry for more.
The Sunshine Boys is at Swift Creek Mill through March 2.