by Barbara Clark, Cape Cod Times
What it’s about: This 1972 homage to the world of vaudeville has a time-honored plot — it’s the old actors-not-speaking-to-each-other comic routine, sparked with vintage Neil Simon dialogue. Aging actors Al Lewis (Cleo Zani) and Willie Clark (Barry Lew) have baggage — a never-healed split in their longtime vaudeville partnership that goes way back for the old-time duo. Now, Lewis is a decade retired, while Clark is still struggling to find work, though his memory is slowly deserting him. Ben, Willie’s nephew and long-suffering agent (Ari Lew), has a one-show reunion in the works for the two old masters, if only they can stop trading insults. And therein lies the tale, as the frustrated Ben tries his best to hold the game together.
See it or not: See it for the dazzling performances of Cleo Zani and Barry Lew, who perfectly embody their roles as fading former partners, jumping on every stage moment as the consummate professionals they are. They’re more than just “containers” for Simon’s marvelous one-liners. To the character of Al, Zani brings an old man’s wistful consciousness of his aging self; you can almost watch him looking inward in a comic/sad way at just what he’s like as an old man. Barry Lew’s crotchety but lovable Willie calls out for affection even while zealously batting it away at every turn.
Highlights: There are countless moments to savor, among them a priceless scene where the actors try to arrange the chairs and table for rehearsal, neither wanting the other to prevail. And there’s a hilarious, slapstick vaudeville set piece featuring outlandish wigs and a cartoon-worthy fantasy nurse straight out of the comic strips, played to the hilt by Cara Gerardi.
Interesting fact: Simon’s fictional team of Lewis and Clark looked back at a couple of real-life vaudeville teams from the early 20th century: Smith and Dale, who remained lifelong friends throughout their partnership, and the stage duo of Gallagher and Shean, who bickered constantly both on and off stage.
Worth noting: The evening is really a double look-back: Eventide’s production of Simon’s 1972 comedy is full of the hallmarks and humorous touchstones of the ‘70s era, which in turn frames an affectionate reprise of the long-gone days of vaudeville.
One more thing: “Sunshine Boys” turns out to be a family affair of sorts: Ruthe Lew, the director of this finely tuned production, is the wife of Barry Lew, and Ari Lew is their son. All are well-known figures on the Cape Cod theater scene.
If you go: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 25. (Sept. 18 performance sold out); Gertrude Lawrence Stage at Dennis Union Church, 713 Main St.; $31; 508-233-2148, https://www.eventidearts.org/