by Rachele Stoops
It’s not easy to hold a teenager’s attention. As a high school English and theatre teacher, I would know! It’s a high compliment, then, that the Lincoln Community Playhouse’s production of The Sunshine Boys, directed by Judy Hart, kept a group of my high school students laughing – and off their phones! – for the entire two hour show.
The play, written in 1973 by famed American playwright Neil Simon (who also wrote The Odd Couple, Lost in Yonkers, and Barefoot in the Park, to name a few) centers around the lost comedy style of vaudeville. Vaudeville, a collection of acts like a variety show, was once the most popular form of live entertainment in the country. The advent of motion pictures in the 1930s knocked vaudeville off its pedestal, and the medium became almost unknown.
That’s the background setting of The Sunshine Boys, which takes place in mid-1970s New York City, and focuses on the potential reunion of a famous vaudeville duo, Lewis and Clark. Otherwise known as The Sunshine Boys, Al Lewis (played by LCP newcomer Jon R. Kruse) and Willie Clark (Scott Glen, seen on the LCP stage in more than fifty shows) have been estranged for over a decade. Willie is convinced his career is being hampered by his agent and nephew Ben Silverman (Nick Munger) and not his failing memory. He doesn’t jump at the chance to reunite with Al for a CBS special, though, and when the two men reluctantly attempt to revive their most popular sketch, there are disastrous – and hilarious – results.
This show only works if the timing is impeccable, and director Hart got it just right. Kruse as Lewis and Glen as Clark are so believable as a pair of former show partners that I almost expected to see them bickering in the lobby after the show. Scott Glen’s Willie is both frustrating and sympathetic as he watches his relevance and his youth fade into the past, and Glen never falters. Kruse as Al is the perfect straight man, earning this comment from one of my students: “He was cast exactly right.” Nick Munger’s Ben has just the right amount of exasperation as he deals with his client/uncle.
Although the story is primarily about the two vaudevillians, the supporting cast is also lots of fun. Jacob Zinn-Dorf as Eddie did a fantastic job, and demonstrates the strength of his past theatre experience. (Full disclosure: Jacob was my theatre student for three years, so I may be a little biased). The “nurse” in the vaudeville sketch (Jaydyn Oleson) is perfection, and the Director (Dale Reeves), Patient (Scott Williamson) and Nurse O’Neill (Gretchen Foley) “knocked ’em bowlegged” (that’s a little vaudeville slang).
Some of the funniest moments came between the lines, when the clink of a spoon against a cup or a slurp of sweetened tea brought on a wave of chuckles from the audience. Kruse and Glen had every movement choreographed, making their confrontations funnier than their act.
The teenagers were laughing too, and all five of them agreed that the show was funny and easy to follow. Neil Simon’s humor may not have made it on a Tik Tok, but it can still find an audience today. If you’re looking for a little sunshine in your life, The Sunshine Boys at the Lincoln Community Playhouse is a knockout.
If you go: Remaining performances of The Sunshine Boys are March 7, 13, and 14 t 7:30pm, with matinees March 8 and 15 at 2:00pm. Lincoln Community Playhouse is located at 2500 South 56th Street in Lincoln. Tickets are available online and at the box office in person or by phone (402-489-7529).
Rachele Stoops is an English and theatre teacher at Bryan Community Focus Program, and is on the board of the Nebraska Association of Community Theatres. She has three fantastic almost-grown-up offspring, and a chihuahua named Cecil. Rachele is currently working on her doctorate in Educational Research through Doane University. In her spare time, she enjoys karaoke, baking, and talking about how busy she is.
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