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Monday, 06 December 2010 00:31

There's a little ray of sunshine in The Sunshine Boys

Written by Laura Kyro
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There's a little ray of sunshine in The Sunshine Boys
stlas.org

There's something just very simple, and pure, and satisfying about good theatre. A good script, in the hands of capable actors, and with competent technical support, is more rare than one might think. But not so rare that you can't see it now in St. Louis Actors' Studio's current production of Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. Being presented at the intimate Gaslight Theatre in midtown St. Louis, this production is just good theatre. Not perfect theatre, but VERY GOOD theatre.

The Sunshine Boys tells the tale of two retired vaudevillians, Willie Clark (Joneal Joplin) and Al Lewis (Whit Reichert), The team was big with sketch comedy in their day, but after 43 years of working together, personal peccadillos getting on each other's nerves finally broke them up. It's now 11 years later in 1972, and Willie's nephew (and his personal manager) Ben (William Roth) wants the team to reunite for television special. He cajoles the two into meeting for rehearsal, a move that merely exacerbates the old animosities, eventually leading to Willie's collapse. Of course, in the end, there's something to be said for mutual respect and long friendship.

Before the show, Director Milt Zoth joked that with Joneal Joplin and Whit Reichert as the leads, he basically just got out of the way and let the two well-known St. Louis professional actors do their thing. Whether he was joking or not, I thought the two did make the most of their roles with a poignant verisimilitude. Adding to the professionalism of the production were those in the supporting cast that included Julie Venegoni in two roles, Eric White also in two roles, and James Slover as a frustrated TV gofer.

Technical features of the show were as nicely done. The set (Patrick Huber, also Light Designer) was spot-on as Willie's run-down New York City residence hotel. Costumes (Bonnie Kruger) fit right into the time and place. Set changes were about as interesting to watch as the show itself!

It was opening night I attended, and there were a few rough spots overall, but the bones are there for a production that shows how attending live theatre—GOOD live theatre--can be emotionally stimulating, and a deeply enjoyable pursuit.

The Sunshine Boys runs slightly over two hours, with two 10-minute intermissions.

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