Sunshine packs em in

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Ehnntaaaahhh!

For generations of theater or film lovers, that phrase needs no introduction. It is the recurring signature line from the Neil Simon classic The Sunshine Boys, now playing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.

Premiering in 1972 and made into an Oscar-winning movie in 1975, The Sunshine Boys features two of Simons most memorable characters: the one-time legendary comedy duo of Al Lewis and Willy Clark, who have not spoken to each other in more than 11 years.

At the urging of Clarks nephew Ben, the estranged men begrudgingly agree to reunite for one final performance of their famous Doctor skit for a television special celebrating the history of comedy. In typical Simon style, the results are equally disastrous and hilarious.

As the curtain rises at LTA, we meet the cantankerous Willy Clark, an aging vaudevillian perpetually annoyed with everything and everyone around him.
Veteran award-winning actor Joe Jenckes effortlessly tackles the role of Clark, displaying an acidic wit and timing that perfectly conveys Simons sharp dialog.

As a man trying desperately to keep up the illusion of his prominence in the entertainment industry, Jenckes also reveals just the right touch of vulnerability in the blustering, insufferable Clark.

Jan Forbes, in his debut appearance at LTA, provides the perfect counterpoint to Clark as the more restrained and dignified Al Lewis, a man much more at peace with his decision to leave the limelight of show business.

Both Jenckes and Forbes have mastered the complicated art of comedy, employing subtle body language and facial expressions in their perfectly synchronized delivery of Simons nonstop zingers and pranks.

Jim Carmalt turns in a stellar performance as Clarks beleaguered but devoted nephew Ben, who haplessly attempts to play peacemaker between the sparring friends for the sake of the television special.

The Sunshine Boys is said to be one of Simons personal favorites. For many theatergoers the roles of Lewis and Clark are inseparable from the images of Walter Matthau and Oscar-winner George Burns, who portrayed the cranky duo on film.

It is no small task to stage such a well-known production, but under the gifted direction of Suni Chapman, Jenckes and Forbes gracefully recreate the persona of the two legendary actors without resorting to shabby impersonations.

Missing from the film is the intimacy that live theater provides, and Chapman takes full advantage of this in transforming the audience into the television studio during the exasperating dress rehearsal scenes at the beginning of the second act. 

The vast experience of set designer John Downing is evident in the clever double set that rotates on a giant turntable, alternating between Clarks downtrodden, dimly lit New York hotel suite and the bright lights of the rehearsal studio.

The finishing touches on this production are provided by Pat Taylors costume design, as she adeptly contrasts the slovenly, cynical Clark against the meticulously groomed and contented Lewis.

The three superb lead actors are ably supported by the small but important roles of Carlyn Lightfoot as nurse ONeill, Fred C. Lash as the television director, Daniel Maxwell as Eddie, Tegan Cohen as Nurse Good Body, Philip Baedecker as the announcer and Joseph Le Blanc as the patient.

The Sunshine Boys is one of Neil Simons funniest yet poignant plays, and LTA delivers an evening of heartwarming entertainment with delightful performances from everyone involved.

 

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