Monday, June 23, 2014

Theater Review: The Sunshine Boys -- CT Repertory Nutmeg Series

 Sara Andreas, Richard Kline and Jerry Adler. Photo: Gerry Goodstein
On-stage Rapport Shines in Sunshine Boys
By Lauren Yarger
Director Vincent J. Cardinal finds a wonderful onstage rapport among veteran actors Jerry Adler and Richard Kline and UConn alum Richard Ruiz to propel CT Repertory Theater’s fine production of Neil Simon’s 1972 comedy The Sunshine Boys, the second of this season’s Nutmeg Summer Series offerings.

The comedy team of Lewis and Clark (Kline, TV’s “Three’s Company,” City of Angels, first national  tour Wicked and Adler, “The Sopranos,” “Rescue Me,” “The Good Wife,” CRT’s “I’m Connecticut”) once dominated vaudeville, but a falling out broke them up after 43 years in show business. Now, Clark sits alone watching TV in his rundown hotel room (designed by Tim Brown) waiting for his nephew/manager Ben Silverman (Ruiz) to get him a gig doing commercials. Ben tries his best, but Willie has trouble remembering his lines.

Meanwhile, Al, who has retired from the business, is dealing with health issues while living with his daughter and her family over in dreaded New Jersey.

One day, Ben has good news. A television special about the history of comedy is being produced and wouldn’t be complete without including Lewis and Clark. But can the estranged entertainers stand being in the same room with each other long enough to recreate their famous doctor sketch?

Ben doesn’t give Willie much of a choice. How would it look to the network if he couldn’t even arrange a booking with his own uncle? Not to mention that the gig will pay them each $10,000. Willie agrees, despite his reluctance to reunite with the partner who mercilessly poked him in the chest and spit in his face when delivering his lines all those years…

Hostilities surface during the initial meeting and escalate during the taping of the special with Sandra Andreas playing the buxom and provocatively costumed nurse (Lisa Loen, design) who is the catalyst for many of the team’s jokes, which often get interrupted by the actors’ feud, all to the consternation of the director (Thomas Brazzle, a recent student at UConn and a noticeable nonEquity member of the cast).

The ordeal brings on a heart attack for Willie and lands him in the care of a registered nurse (Tina Fabrique, Ella) who doesn’t take any grief from the old man who needs to make some decisions about where to live and whether or not to see Al again.

Simon’s comedy (which has a few updates to make it a little more modern) still is funny and the humor here is made sharper by that rapport among the three main actors. Willie and Al exude a natural loathing and marvelous timing, especially when the men go into their characters’ oft-performed doctor sketch. At one point, on the night I attended, one of the jokes tickled the actors’ funny bone for real, proving that the actors, as well as the characters, are a good comedy team. It also was fun to watch Adler expertly wait for the laugh before timing his next line. A real treat to see these actors on stage
Gerry Goodstein photo

More impressive than two good actors doing what they do best, however, is how Ruiz, pictured right with Kline,  fits perfectly in to the mix. He has stood out in roles at CT Rep’s My Fair Lady, The Music Man and Man of LaMancha as well as in Yale Rep’s American Night, but really shines here. He conveys real affection for his uncle, admiration for Al and somehow manages to be engaging without getting in the way of the veterans.

The two-hour comedy with an intermission is the second offering in the Nutmeg series. Next up: Gypsy, starring Leslie Uggams, June 19-29.

The Sunshine Boys plays through June 29 at Jorgensen Auditorium on the UConn Storrs campus. Showitimes vary. Tickets are $10-$43: 860-486-2113;; box office at the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Rd.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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