TNT warms up ‘Sunshine Boys’

if you go

What: “The Sunshine Boys”

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays for the next two weekends

Where: The theater is at 5883 Youngstown-Warren Road, Niles.

Info: Call 330-652-103.

By Bentley Lenhoff


When it ran on Broadway, “The Sunshine Boys” was a big success. The film version of the Neil Simon comedy won an Oscar and was an even bigger hit.

Trumbull New Theatre’s production of the play, which opened last weekend, falls short but is still worth seeing.

Director Debra Nuhler has cast two area veterans in lead roles – James Penn as Willie Clark and Tim McGinley as Al Lewis.

Clark and Lewis, a vaudeville act known as the Sunshine Boys, worked onstage together for 43 years.

When the play opens, the two men — both showing signs of their advanced age — are retired and haven’t spoken to each another for more than a decade. Their feud started because Lewis decided that he was done with performing but Clark wanted to keep going.

Clark and Lewis are brought back together by Clark’s nephew and manager, Ben, played by Dave Perkins. Ben wants to reunite the Sunshine Boys for a television special. Lewis is willing, but Clark isn’t — at least not initially.

As the play continues, the bond between the two men is rekindled with hilarious scenes, including the classic re-enactment of their socko act for the TV cameras.

In addition to getting laughs, Simon also alerts audiences to the intense pathos of each man’s situation.

Clark lives alone in a dilapidated residential hotel, sustained by memories of what was and a near-constant desire to recreate the past. He refuses to come to terms with the realities of his life today in the same way that he is unwilling to let go of his anger at Lewis.

No one ever accused Neil Simon of being Simple Simon. These are big issues that require skilled and artful stage delivery.

TNT’s production falls a little short but is still strong and worth seeing. It will likely improve over the next two weekends.

Eye contact between characters is missing. Instead of looking at each other, actors are looking at the floor.

As Willie, Dent grew into his role after the first act. He toned down his delivery of lines and the character became believable.

When all lines are punched, no line gets emphasized. In this case, throwing away a line can become a gain. Here’s an example: In the last scene of the play, a bedridden Willie asks his nurse if she is married. She replies, “He died four years ago.” And Willie, as someone who is sick and weak, quietly throws away this line: “You were the nurse?” The laugh that followed was the longest and loudest of the night.

The real problem with TNT’s production is that it isn’t kosher, as the playwright intended. Simon called for corned beef with wry humor, but what is served up is half-baked ham.

For “The Sunshine Boys” to work, actors must be able to deliver with the same comic timing of the Jewish entertainers of vaudeville days and the distinctive Yiddish accent. They also must adopt the attitude that gets a question answered with a shrug and another question: “So, how are you?” “So, how should I be?”

In supporting roles, Dave Perkins as Ben was convincing in the TV studio second act scene. As the sketch nurse, Jayne Calos looked good. Terri Gilbert registered well as Willie’s nurse. H. Keith Bowers, Michael Hill and Tom DeNicholas in supporting roles all contributed to the play’s success.

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