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Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys Shines Brightly at the Garner Performing Arts Center

The Towne Players of Garner’s production of Neil Simon’s 1972 Broadway hit The Sunshine Boys is a solid evening of entertainment, which will complete its all-too-brief two-week run on Feb. 3rd and 4th at the Garner Performing Arts Center. Simon’s script is rife with one-liners, witty exchanges, slapstick routines, and sight-gags. Towne Players artistic director Beth Honeycutt sets an appropriate pace, so we never felt either overwhelmed or bogged-down.

Willie Clark and Al Lewis are (or rather, were) “The Sunshine Boys,” a legendary vaudeville comedy duo. But they haven’t seen each other in 11 years, and they haven’t spoken in 12. (Do the math.)

The Sunshine Boys had been partners for 43 years when Lewis suddenly announced his retirement from show business, leaving Clark floundering on his own. That was 11 years ago. Presumably, Lewis was able to find success in a second career. Clark, however, now lives in a rundown hotel apartment, no longer able to land any work. His nephew/agent, Ben Silverman, has arranged a well-paying reunion performance as part of a televised “history-of-comedy” special.

Neither Lewis nor Clark is willing to admit to liking the idea, but they agree to go through with it. Pet peeves, differences of opinion, and old animosities ensue. But the comedy of the scene that we see them rehearse, “The Doctor Will See You Now,” is delightful vintage vaudeville.

This routine is delivered briskly and on-point. We could practically hear the rim-shots as the zingers zinged. The staging of this production affords some “extras,” as we are able to view a few of the characters’ “off-stage” moments.

Onstage for the entire production, Michael Dunavan clearly has the most difficult job; and he delivers with aplomb. He gives us a crusty, crotchety, curmudgeonly Willie Clark, who is bothered, literally, by everything. Yet the character is quite endearing to the audience, as he manages to wring humor and sarcasm out of every possible source. There was something in Dunavan’s mannerisms and posture that vaguely reminded us of Peter Falk’s Columbo, especially when he managed to get hold of a cigar in the opening scene.

Jim O’Brien’s Al Lewis plays well opposite him. Lewis is more of a “reacting” character than an instigator, and O’Brien gives this character all of the correct nuances in the scenes that the two share. We are skirting the creation of a spoiler, but we feel compelled to say: there is a certain scene in which O’Brien’s performance is alarmingly realistic.

Michael McGee as Ben Silverman shows the character’s concern for his aging uncle, along with an understandable degree of approaching the “I’ve-had-all-I-can-take” mentality.

These three actors are competently supported by Tim Stancil, David Flood, and Stephen Carl. As “Nurse” and “Registered Nurse,” respectively, Laura Griffin and Dara Warner both deserve the designation: “delightful.” Keep one word in mind: shoes.

Neil Simon’s scripts always have a “human element,” and this show is no exception. Beneath the resentments and the animosities, beyond the foibles and the sarcasm, there is a genuine affection between the one-time partners. In the hands of less competent actors, these details could be easily lost.

The set, co-designed by director Beth Honeycutt and her husband, technical director A. Scott Honeycutt, affords realistic replicas of Clark’s apartment and the TV studio as they would have appeared in 1972. The apartment, in particular, reflects scrupulous attention to detail. We were, however, a little bothered by the length of time required for closed-curtain set changes on opening night. Hopefully, this little kink will be ironed out in subsequent performances.

The program does not credit a costume-designer, but we feel compelled to give a nod to the selections of attire for the central characters. Ben Silverman’s suit, complete with cheesy bowtie, in the first scene rated a grin. And Willie Clark’s “ensembles” were amusingly correct.

The Department of Picky-Picky feels compelled to issue a warning: If at all possible, do not sit in either of the side sections of the house — sit in the center section, between the aisles. We were seated to the right of the house-right aisle, and much of the upstage-left action in the final scene was difficult to see. We suspect that some of the delightful bits that are enacted upstage-right in the first act are also lost to people sitting house-left of the left aisle.

In addition, while DoPP is aware that all theater sound systems have their limitations, we have to confess to being, at least momentarily, a bit distracted every time that a sound effect intended to signify action upstage issued forth from speakers in front of the proscenium. But we lived through it.

Chatting with Scott Honeycutt before the show, we learned that he and his wife, Beth, met while doing a Neil Simon play a few decades ago. He indicated that they have a special place in their hearts for Simon’s work. The quality of this production makes that apparent.

The show has two remaining performances: at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 3rd, and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4th. We recommend it. Newcomers to Neil Simon will find this an excellent “first.” Veteran Simon fans will find that the team of Michael Dunavan and Jim O’Brien is a credit to this script.

Jim O'Brien (on left in center photo) and Michael Dunavan star as Al Lewis and Willie Clark in The Towne Players' production of <em>The Sunshine Boys</em> (photos by Ken Hall)

Jim O’Brien (on left in center photo) and Michael Dunavan star as Al Lewis and Willie Clark in The Sunshine Boys (photos by Ken Hall)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 20th Raleigh, NC Garner Cleveland Record preview by Aaron Moody: http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/community/garner-cleveland-record/article127657249.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 29th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/the-towne-players-production-of-the-sunshine-boys-is-hilarious-and-extremely-satisfying/.)

The Towne Players of Garner present THE SUNSHINE BOYS at 8 p.m. Feb. 3 and 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Garner Performing Arts Center (formerly Garner Historic Auditorium), 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina 27529.

TICKETS: $15 on Feb. 3rd and $12 on Feb 4th, except $12 per person for groups of 10 or more.

BOX OFFICE: Tickets will be sold at the door or may be purchased online at http://www.etix.com/.

INFORMATION: 919-779-6144 or tickets@towneplayers.org.

SHOW: http://www.towneplayers.org/performances/current-season/, https://www.facebook.com/events/1783376251988034/, and http://www.garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/garner-performing-arts-center/events/the-sunshine-boys.

PRESENTER: http://www.towneplayers.org/ https://www.facebook.com/TownePlayersofGarner, and https://twitter.com/towneplayers.

VENUE: http://www.garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/garner-performing-arts-center, https://www.facebook.com/GarnerPerformingArtsCenter/, https://www.facebook.com/GarnerHistoricAuditorium, and https://twitter.com/gpacgarner.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/garner-performing-arts-center/community/directions.

PARKING: http://www.garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/garner-performing-arts-center/visit/parking.

OTHER LINKS:

The Sunshine Boys (1972 Broadway comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/2821/sunshine-boys-the (Samuel French Inc.), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/the-sunshine-boys-3160 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sunshine_Boys (Wikipedia).

The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://www.thepublictheatre.org/assets/education/study-guides/2014-15/PublicTheatre-The-Sunshine-Boys-Study-Guide.pdf (The Public Theatre in Lewiston, ME).

Neil Simon (Bronx, NY-born playwright and screenwriter): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/neil-simon-7879 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/6337 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0800319/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Simon (Wikipedia).

Beth Honeycutt (Garner, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/beth.honeycutt2 (Facebook page).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Theatre Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews