CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
The Sunshine Boys
Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys at The Ridgefield Theater Barn
By David Begelman
Finding one's way to the Ridgefield Theater Barn can be a daunting experience for reviewers. Finding
one's way into it may present even more of a challenge. The playhouse is currently being renovated, and
is perched on a hill that might precipitate nosebleeds for anyone going up and down its steep incline a
bit too rapidly. And then there is the parking. After finding a spot around a sharp curve, I imagined the
next chapter in the safari would be to see Tommy Lee Jones in hot pursuit of Harrison Ford on location
in Ridgefield in some improbable sequel to The Fugitive.
Much to my pleasant surprise, all these inconveniences were well worth the trouble after being treated to
a show mounted on a smallish stage underneath shining overhead lights reading, "The Sunshine Boys."
And sunshiney this show is: a heartwarming, rollicking jaunt of two hilarious actors playing the part of
vaudevillians who are not only well past their prime, but who detest each other with a passion that won't
The Sunshine Boys is the kind of play that doesn't let you come up for air through laughing so much.
Elders among us should have contingency plans for herniated body parts or CPR maneuvers in the event
they find it difficult to inhale while guffawing. The show is that funny-thanks, naturally, to the immensely
talented Neil Simon and his two funny men in Ridgefield, Larry Greeley (as Willie Clark), and Mark
Snyder (as Al Lewis).
Neil Simon is perhaps the outstanding comedic playwright of our generation-and he is still underrated as
a literary artist in some circles. The temptation is to devalue his real achievement by intimating his plays
are simply soufflés manufactured from gags of Borscht Circuit vintage. Dead wrong. The playwright is a
consummate literary artist whose impressive craftsmanship is the silent partner in all his terrific work.
Moreover, he comes from a circle of comedic geniuses (including Mel Brooks and Woody Allen) who
brainstormed together in providing the humor for one of the glories of early television: Sid Caesar's and
Imogene Coca's Show of Shows.
There's something to be said for group think tanks in generating comedy, and cross-fertilization within
them is a recurrent blessing. As a case in point, the sketch nurse, Miss Macintosh (played seductively
by the well endowed Melissa Power in the current production), is just another spin on Max Bialystock's
Swedish secretary in Mel Brooks's The Producers (played to luscious, if not ludicrous, perfection by
Uma Thurman in the movie). Ms. Power, I am told, is the author of a children's book, The Heavenly
Seven, Stories of the Mighty Archangels. Talk about a change of pace.
In The Sunshine Boys, our pair of old-timers attempts to call a truce in their eternal feuding long enough
to collaborate on a gig for television. It is arranged by Ben Silverman, Willie Clark's young nephew
(played dutifully by Kyle Pinto), and involves an older sketch of the twosome cavorting in a doctor's office
and engaging one another with dopey one-liners. Actually, Neil Simon's original inspiration for the
comedy twosome was Smith and Dale, a pair of vaudevillians quite familiar to the playwright, and who
performed in what they probably envisioned was the service of high art. Truth of the matter is that, like
Lewis and Clark and the inimitable Henny Youngman, they were so bad they were good, as anyone who
spotted them occasionally on the Ed Sullivan Show could readily appreciate.
There is not enough to say about Sherry Asch's wonderful direction or the side-splitting performance of
her two leads. They were simply hilarious together-even when hats tumbled off accidentally, when
hairpieces became dislodged, or when lines were on occasion flubbed. Even the mistakes seemed to roll
with the comedic punches. These two troupers rode the crest of the Neil Simon humor like they were
stars on the backs of broncos in a rodeo of laughs. Everyone was a foil for Larry Greeley's Willie Clark,
and his acerbic quips had the audience howling with delight. Mark Snyder's Al Lewis was likewise
merciless with his verbal jabs, coupled with an ever present look of curiosity and alarm hidden behind
horn-rimmed glasses. Mr. Snyder, an elderly gentleman and a tennis coach off stage, has observed, "I
have underwear older than some of the kids I play against," proving that he is in character offstage as
well as on.
In the second act, Willie Clark suffers a heart attack, and Al Lewis makes a courtesy call to visit his old
enemy, a gesture significant enough to raise a question of whether the Sunshine Boys are really
"enemies" deep down. Maybe they are connected in ways both of them hardly appreciate. After all,
years of being at each other's throats may be a modus operandi that defines them. Could it be that they
would truly be lost without each other, just as in another literary instance? When the painter Gulley
Jimson in the film adaptation of Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth learns that the critic who had savaged
his artwork most of his career has just died, the artist's enmity evaporates, and he becomes depressed.
Myles Gansfried, Jennifer Gantwerker, Philip Schafer and Pat Halbert (who is the efficient publicist of the
RTB) contributed solidly to the production. All in all, a most enjoyable evening in the theater. The New
York Post has described Neil Simon's brilliant comedy as "Ham on rye." Can't Rupert Murdoch get
anything right? It's pastrami on rye! Oy Vay, I hear my mother-in-law wailing, her head nearly in the oven.
The Sunshine Boys opened Friday, March 28, and continues to April 19 on Friday and Saturday
evenings at 8:00pm., with Sunday matinees on April 6 and 13, at the Ridgefield Theater barn at 37
Halpin Lane in Ridgefield, CT. There is cabaret seating, and audience members are encouraged to bring
their own food and beverage. Doors open one hour before curtain. Tickets are: adults $22, and seniors
(62 and over) $18, available online at www.ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org.